Slave Voices - ESCAPE

ESCAPE (Illustration) American History Biographies African American History Civil Rights Famous Historical Events History Law and Politics Music Nineteenth Century Life Social Studies Tragedies and Triumphs Slaves and Slave Owners

Bernarda Bryson Shahn created this watercolor over graphite under-drawing for the Resettlement Administration of FDR in 1935 or 1936. It is the artist’s interpretation of slaves disembarking a ship at a slave auction on the docks in Charleston, South Carolina. Online via the Library of Congress. Restricted rights apply.


Breaking from bondage, for many slaves, was worth risking their lives. (WARNING: THIS LINK TAKES YOU TO GRAPHIC MATERIAL FROM AN 1840 ANTI-SLAVERY ALMANAC.) The Fugitive Slave Law however, complicated things.

Passed in 1850, the law required officials in the North to assist in capturing runaway slaves. The "Underground Railroad" (a network of routes, safe-houses, and people) was, therefore, a slave's best mode of escape. It is believed that the Underground Railroad helped about 100,000 slaves escape. The perilous journey was often deadly.

William Still, a free-born black man who has been called "Father of the Underground Railroad," recorded many first-person accounts of people who took that dangerous "passage" to freedom. In his preface to their stories, Still wrote:

The race must not forget the rock from whence they were hewn, nor the pit from whence they were digged.

Like other races, this newly emancipated people will need all the knowledge of their past condition which they can get.
Frederick Douglass, Henry Bibb, Wm. Wells Brown, Rev. J.W. Logan, and others, gave unmistakable evidence that the race had no more eloquent advocates than its own self-emancipated champions.
Here, therefore, in my judgment is the best possible reason for vigorously pushing the circulation of this humble volume - that it may testify for thousands and tens of thousands, as no other work can do.

What testimony did Still record in his book, The Underground Railroad: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters? He begins with the story of his own family's journey.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5155stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jun 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Mar 01, 2015

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