The African Americans

Search for Truth and Knowledge

By Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Jr.

Part Twenty-Five: African American Resistance¬óAccommodation Tradition

Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

During slavery one of the best protests against the inhuman system was running away. All during slavery, the slave owners dreaded the run-away or fugitive slave. Countless thousands of African Americans escaped servitude and make their way to freedom following the North Star. Frederick Douglass escaped his Maryland enslavement and became the leading figure fighting against slavery. Harriet Tubman was the symbol of defiant runaways and a leading conductor on the Underground Railroad which was not a railway line but an escape route to freedom to the North with secret hideaways.

Tubman made nineteen trips into the South to free over three hundred slaves. She escaped from the South and went to New York State and then went back to make her daring recruits. Later she explained how it felt to be in the North. She said: "I was free and I couldn't believe it. There was such a glory all around and the sun was shining through the trees and on the hills. I was free." Her personal freedom did not satisfy her; she had a mission to help free others. She was a true symbol of the Abolition Struggle.

Harriet Tubman was born in slavery in 1823 and died free in New York in 1913. She has been described as "Black Moses, strong as a man, brave as a lion and cunning as a fox." She was a major conductor on the Underground Railroad which helped thousands of African Americans escape from slavery in the South to freedom in the North and in Canada. The Underground Railroad was never a railroad nor was it underground; it was a system of individuals, families and churches organized to provide safe haven and help African Americans escape from slavery.


Frederick Douglass and the Abolitionist Movement

Frederick Douglass was born a slave in 1817 in Maryland and escaped in 1838 to the North to become the symbol of African American resistance to slavery. He was considered a fugitive, or run-away slave, and was in fear of being caught by slave bounty hunters. Once he obtained his freedom in the North, he continued to fight on behalf of his people. He became a leading spokesman for freedom and traveled in America and Europe speaking against slavery. At the same time he worked with others, both Black and White, to organize the Anti-Slavery Abolitionist Movement.

He worked with White abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, editor and publisher of The Liberator magazine. Later Douglass published his own magazine called The North Star.

In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison, a young White journalist who opposed slavery, published the first issue of his famous Liberator magazine. In his first editorial, he wrote indignantly: "I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject (slavery) I do not wish to think, to speak, or write, with moderation. No! No!"

Two years later in 1833 Garrison and several African Americans like Samuel Cornish, Robert Parvis and Peter Williams organized the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia. During his fight for abolition of slavery, Frederick Douglass traveled throughout the North and to England. When the Civil War broke out, he continually urged President Lincoln to make the conflict a national crusade against slavery and involve Black troops. Finally in 1862 and 1863 Lincoln and his advisors agreed to make the war a struggle over slavery and issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.

Douglass rallied African Americans to the cause and was a leader in the movement to enroll more than 180,000 Blacks in the Army and 30,000 in the Navy. Two of his own sons joined units of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). These African American soldiers fought valiantly in the Civil War in spite of terrible conditions and were a major factor in the victory by the Northern Union Army. Their heroic efforts are legendary and units such as the Massachusetts 54th Regiment were singled out for special citations. These unsung heroes made a tremendous contribution to the struggle to keep the Nation united.

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