UNDERGROUND RAILROADIn the 1850s being an African American simply meant onething, Slavery. Getting out of slavery kept their hope alive.
THE STARTA more organized system in assisting the slaves towardsfreedom comes about at the end of the 18th century.In 1786 George Washington complained about how one ofhis runaway slaves was helped by a ‘society of Quakers,formed for such purposes.’ The system grew, and around1831 it was dubbed ‘The Underground Railroad,’ after thethen emerging steam railroads. The system even used termsused in railroading.”
THE START CONT.“The Underground Railroad, a vast network of people whohelped fugitive slaves escape to the North and to Canada,was not run by any single organization or person. Rather, itconsisted of many individuals--many whites butpredominantly black--who knew only of the local efforts toaid fugitives and not of the overall operation.”Between 1810 to 1850 it was estimated that the South lostaround 100,000 slaves
SPIRITUALS“For Africans who wanted to escape slavery, songs hadanother important purpose as well. They could be used tocommunicate. Their songs, which are sometimes calledspirituals, were passed from one group to another- andalong the with the songs came the code.”“Many of these slave songs talked about ‘going home’ or‘being bound for the land of Canaan.’ If you just heard thesong, you might think the people were singing about dyingand going to heaven.” The songs were actually about gainingtheir freedom by going to North to Canada.
SONGS OF FREEDOM“The spirituals and their lyrics were part of a sophisticatedsystem that involved no incriminating evidence forplantation owners or overseers to find. Codes imbedded inthe spirituals instructed slaves as to when, how and where toescape. They also included warning signals, such as themessage of ‘Wade in the Water’, informing slaves to travelalong the riverbank so the dogs giving the chase would bethrown off their scent.”
“Most slaves could not read or write; in fact, it wasagainst the law to teach slaves to read or write. Thespirituals provided a means of verbal, codedcommunication understood only by those in theUnderground Railroad. Outsiders generallyinterpreted the spirituals on a literal level, whileslaves knew the meaning of the messages hiddenwithin the words and phrases. Through the words, therefrains, the ‘call and response’ method of singing,and the rhythmic sounds produced by dancing feet,slaves could decipher these hidden meanings.”
“The coming of the railroad train opened up a fastermeans of transportation for fleeing slaves, andcreated a whole new spiritual vocabulary. The word‘chariot’ was replaced by the word ‘train’ and otherphrases relevant to rail transportation. One exampleis the spiritual, “The Gospel Trains a Comin’. Thegospel Train quickly became a code name for theUnderground Railroad. When slaves heard this songbeing sung, they knew that either a conductor wasamong them, or that fleeing slaves were close by,along with an opportunity to escape.”
FOLLOW THEDRINKING GOURD“To follow the North Starwas the message embeddedin this spiritual;instructions are included inthe song to follow thepoints of the drinkinggourd (the Big Dipper) tothe brightest star, which isthe North Star.”
FOLLOW THE DRINKINGGOURD CONT. Lyrics: When the Sun comes back And the first quail calls Follow the Drinking Gourd, For the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedom If you follow the Drinking Gourd The riverbank makes a very good road. The dead trees will show you the way. Left foot, peg foot, traveling on, Follow the Drinking Gourd. The river ends between two hills Follow the Drinking Gourd. There’s another river on the other side Follow the Drinking Gourd. When the great big river meets the little river Follow the Drinking Gourd. For the old man is a-waiting for to carry to freedom If you follow the Drinking Gourd.
STEAL AWAYhttp://youtu.be/0J8f_1RYubwThe steal away song was sang by a lot of slaves whiletraveling the underground railroad.“Harriet Tubman would tell you how to sneak across thebridge over the Choptank River and where to find friends ina place called Delaware.
Steal away was first sang by Nat Turner who led a slave revolt.When the revolt failed and Turner was killed no slave was allowed to speak his name, they cleverlyincorporated his name in other songs however. Lyrics: Chorus: Steal away, steal away! Steal away to Jesus! Steal away, steal away home! I ain’t got long to stay here! My Lord calls me! He calls me by the thunder! The trumpet sounds in my soul! I ain’t got long to stay here! Chorus: My Lord, he calls me! He calls me by the lightning! The trumpet sounds it ina my soul! I ain’t got long to stay here! Chorus:
THE BALLAD OF THEUNDERGROUND RAILROAD Lyrics: Led the way at night,The Underground Train, Guiding the trainStrange as it seems, By the North Star Light.Carried many passengers The passengers wereAnd never was see The fugitive slavesIt wasn’t made of wood, Running from slaveryIt wasn’t made of steel; And its evil ways.A man-made train that Running from the whipRan without wheels. And the overseer,The train was known From the slave blockBy many a name. And the Auctioneer.But the greatest of all They didn’t want their mastersWas “The Freedom Train” To catch them again,The Quakers, the Indians, So men dressed as womenGentiles and Jews, And the women dressed as men.Were some of the peopleWho made up the crews.Free Blacks and ChristiansAnd Atheists, too,Were the rest of the peopleWho made up the crews.Conductors and agents
HARRIET TUBMANHarriet Tubman was often called “Moses”http://youtu.be/Rp5Zd0bYPjQShe was a former slave who ran away in 1849 butcame back and helped other slaves gain freedomguided by her “visions”Harriet never lost a single passenger and if therewas not enough room for a slave she would tellthem to follow the North Star to freedom in Canada
SWING LOW SWEETCHARIOT“This hymn was said to be a Chorus: Lyricsfavorite of Harriet Tubman. Swing low, sweet chariot, Comin for to carry me home!She loved spirituals, and I looked over Jordan and what did I see, Comin for to carry me home!even wrote her own. A band of angels comin after me,Tubman used spirituals as Comin for to carry me home! Chorus:signals to hiding slavs to If you get there before I do, Comin for to carry me home,indicate whether it was Jess tell my friends that Im acomin too,sage to come out of hiding Comin for to carry me home. Chorus:and continue on the Im sometimes up and sometimes down, Comin for to carry me home,journey.” But still my soul feels heavenly bound Comin for to carry me home!
WADE IN THE WATER “Harriet Tubman sang this Lyrics: Chorus: spiritual as a warning to Wade in the water, Wade in the water children. runaway slaves. To escaping Wade in the water God’s gonna trouble the water slaves, the song told them to Who’s all those children all dressed in Red? God’s gonna trouble the water. abandon the path and move Must be the ones that Moses led. God’s gonna trouble the water. into the water. By traveling Chorus: What are those children all dressed in White? along the water’s edge or God’s gonna trouble the water. Must be the ones of the Israelites. across a body of water, the God’s gonna trouble the water. Chorus: slaves would throw chasing Who are these children all dressed in Blue? God’s gonna trouble the water. dogs and their keepers off the Must be the ones that made it through. scent.” God’s gonna trouble the water. Chorus:
DARLING NELLY GRAY“Slaves were bought and sold at the whim of their owners with no regard forfamily or friendship ties within the slave community. ‘Darling Nelly Gray’ tellsthe story of two young lovers whose romance ended win Nelly was sold andtaken to a plantation far away from that of her young man, Ned.”“To express his and Ned’s sadness, the professor composed a little verse, andthen added a melody. Sung sorrowfully by his glee club, it soon became verypopular and he eventually added more lyrics to create a full-blown song. Thesheet music was soon for sale on newsstands, and, not long after, was sung,whistled and hummed in every state.”
Lyrics:There’s a low green valley on the old Kentucky shore,There I’ve while many happy hours away.A-sitting and a-singing by the little cottage door,Where lived my darling Nelly Gray.Chorus:Oh! My poor Nelly Gray, have they taken you away,And I’ll never see my darling anymore.I’m a sitting by the river and I’m weeping all the day,For you’ve gone from the old Kentucky shore.One night I went to see her but “she’s gone,” the neighbors say,The white man bound her with his chain,They have taken her to Georgia for to wear her life away,As she toils in the cotton and the cane.Chorus:
THE GOSPEL TRAIN’SA’ COMIN’“Slaves sung the spiritual, The Gospel Train’s A’ Comin’, toalert other slaves that a group was preparing to escape andtravel north to freedom. ‘Gospel Train’ was code for theUnderground Railroad.”“Plantation owners would be unaware their slaves wereplanning to escape; slave songs were part of the day’sroutine. A plantation owner would simply hear the religiousand Biblical references and assume the slaves were singingfor spiritual reasons.”
Lyrics:The Gospel train’s a’comin’I hear it just at handI hear the car wheel rumblin’And rollin’ thro’ the landChorus:Get on board little childrenGet on board little childrenGet on board little childrenTheres room for many moreI hear the train a’cominShes comin round the curveShes loosened all her steam and brakesAnd strainin evry nerveChorus:The fare is cheap and all can goThe rich and poor are thereNo second class aboard this trainNo difference in the fare
TRAVELING“For the slave, running away to the North was anything buteasy. The first step was to escape from the slaveholder. Formany slaves, this meant relying on his or her own resources.Sometimes a ‘conductor,’ posing as a slave. would enter aplantation and then guide the runaways northward. Thefugitives would move at night. They would generally travelbetween 10 to 20 miles to the next station, where they wouldrest and eat, hiding in barns and other out-of-the-wayplaces. While they waited, a message would be sent to thenext station to alert its stationmaster.”
TO ENTER A HOUSE ORNOT?While traveling the underground railroad the slaves wouldstop at different houses to rest for a little bit before theycontinued on their journey.A lot of slaves were very skeptical on whether or not to stayin a house or not since most of them were white houses.Harriet Tubman told all the slaves that if there was a lanternon a hitching post the house was safe to stay at, and youcould trust the family.
THOMAS GARRETT“A good friend of Tubman’s, Garrett has workedon The Underground Railroad for almost 40years. A few years ago he was arrested and fined$5,400. It didn’t stop him for a minute.”Thomas Garrett was in Wilmington which wasone of the first big cities that the slaves wouldsee on the way to gaining their freedom inCanada
PHILADELPHIA,PENNSYLVANIAEven though the slaves were very excited to reach Philadelphia, a free state,unfortunately the slaves were still seen as slaves and would be returned to theirmasters if caught.William Still was born in Philadelphia and one of the few African Americans thatwere born free from slavery.William Still was able to read and write and a leader in the fight againstabolishing slavery.
ROCHESTER, NEWYORK“Weeks of trudging, including a grueling passage of almost250 miles through the Appalachian Mountains, havebrought you to Rochester.”Fredrick Douglass who publishes the North Star and SusanB. Anthony are two of the people that could be helping youon the journey to Canada, but first you have to make it pastLake Erie.
LAKE ERIE“Across Lake Erie lies Canada. As winter takes hold, chunksof ice have begun to form. You might find someone to rowyou across, or you could try leaping from one ice floe toanother. Either way, you’ll be freezing cold. Yet stayingexposes you-and your helpers-to slave hunters”
FREE AT LASTThe song free at last was sang by all of the slaves who finallymade it to Canada and were free from their enslavement.http://youtu.be/FU3oqj0ICfc