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However, before we tackle those tales, it’s worth looking at the origins of the term “Underground Railroad.” Various explanations exist for how it was coined.
Tice Davids was a Kentucky slave who successfully escaped to Ohio in 1831, and the term “Underground Railroad” may have been coined based on his escape.
Many also seem to believe that thousands of benign, incognito white “conductors” routinely hid the slaves in secret rooms concealed in attics or basements, or behind the staircases of numerous “safe houses,” the locations of which were coded in “freedom quilts” sewn by the slaves and hung in their windows as guideposts for fugitives on the run.
The “railroad” itself, according to this legend, was composed of “a chain of stations leading from the Southern states to Canada,” as Wilbur H.
But in the zeal to tell the story of this great institution, legend and lore have sometimes overwhelmed historical facts.
Separating fact from fiction — always an essential part of telling it like it really was — has required a great deal of effort from a number of scholars.
Siebert interviewed nearly everyone still living who had some memory related to the network and even traveled to Canada to interview former slaves who traced their own routes from the South to freedom.
It was, nevertheless, predominantly run by free Northern African Americans, especially in its earliest years, most notably the great Philadelphian William Still.
With the collapse of Reconstruction in 1876 — often blamed on supposedly ignorant or corrupt black people — the winning of freedom became a tale of noble, selfless white efforts on behalf of a downtrodden, faceless, nameless, “inferior” race.
Much of contemporary misunderstanding and myth about the Underground Railroad originated with Wilbur Siebert’s 1898 study.
14, 1842, a date that may be buttressed by those who assert that the abolitionist Charles T. In any event, as David Blight states, the phrase did not become common until the mid-1840s.
The appeal of romance and fancy in stories of the Underground Railroad can be traced to the latter decades of the 19th century, when the South was winning the battle of popular memory over the meaning of the Civil War — sending Lost Cause mythology deep into the national psyche and eventually helping to propel the Virginia-born racist Woodrow Wilson into the White House.