Imagine yourself a slave, hungry, beaten, and sick with grief at having had your freedom, family and all that makes you human stripped from you. But then, you get word of a way out of it all. It will separate you from all whom you love, it will endanger your life, but that is the price for freedom from the slavery of the south. Fellow slaves begin acting strangely, gathering tools, clothing, and food. You look around, and all you see is a freshly washed quilt hanging out to dry. Then you begin to realize that there is a new quilt every few days, each with a new pattern, and with each quilt, your fellow slaves correspondingly perform more and more preparative tasks. So you join them, realizing this is your only chance to become human again, your chance to dupe the system and win your freedom as the ultimate prize. Finally, now that you’ve caught on to the messages contained in the quilts and spiritual songs, you see that long awaited pattern, “tumbling boxes,” and you don’t look back. From here on out, it is all relying on your instincts, and your wit. There are people that will help you, but twice as many that want to kill you. Good luck and god-speed, you have just joined the Underground Railroad, see you in Canada!
The Underground Railroad was neither a railroad nor underground. It was a complex network of freed slaves, black sympathizers, and northern abolitionists. Famous names that adorned the railroad were Harriet Tubman, William Still, and Frederick Douglass, to name a few. In the heart of the South, there was an informal, yet highly complex system evolving. The institution of slavery had wrenched the hearts of too many, and now they were quietly rebelling. Named during the steam engine boom of the mid 1800’s, the Underground Railroad quickly gained quiet yet active support among many. An entire language was also developed from different quilt patterns as well as seemingly innocent church songs that all the while were transmitting messages to the trained eye and ear in front of the whites.
Black slaves were far from being passive victims that waited to be rescued and ceased to struggle. From the day that these Africans set foot on American soil, they acted as aggressively as possible to maintain their own African culture, heritage, and freedom. The Underground Railroad is a story of the individual and cultural survival of the African people who were brought unwillingly to work as slaves in this country. It is a tale that crosses the Atlantic, bridging the peoples of Africa and America. It is a story of North and South, a story of secrets, involving music, language and secret codes. It is, at its heart, a story of triumph and liberty bought at a great price by the individuals who put their lives on the line to save these people from an evil institution. It was the only hope many of these slaves ever had.
The Quilt System
The way the quilt system worked was through a series...