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Black History and Blacks in U.S. History
A Nation Divided
(1840-1861)

Underground Railroad



Underground Railroad
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 7 to 8
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   7.93

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    proslavery, slaver, sympathizers, yoke, colored, abolitionists, majority, bondage, pity, industrious, extremely, organization, runaway, successful, slavery, vast
     content words:    Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, Fugitive Slave Law, Reverend Josiah Henson, Nova Scotia, Josiah Henson, African American, Frederick Douglass, Susan B., Austin Steward


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Underground Railroad
By Mary L. Bushong
  

1     What do you think of when you hear the words "underground railroad"? Perhaps a train that runs deep under the ground? Actually, it was nothing like that. There were no engines or passenger cars, conductors or train stations like you would find with a real train. Instead, it was a loose system of people helping other people.
 
2     You might wonder how this organization got its name. It was first described as a railroad in some printed material in the early 1840s. Passengers were runaway slaves. The shelters where they rested were the stations, and those who led them were conductors. It was not a highly organized system. Sometimes it was simply a stranger taking pity on another stranger, giving food, shelter, or a ride for a short time.
 
3     Many of those who played major parts in the Underground Railroad were free blacks living in both the North and South. Sometimes escaping slaves received help from slaves on another plantation. The majority of help was not available until they reached a "free" state. On reaching the larger northern cities, the railroad became much more highly organized.
 
4     Abolitionists of every race were the main sympathizers of the Underground Railroad. They were committed to ridding the country of slavery any way they could. While they did not help vast numbers of people to escape bondage, the steady trickle of escapees was more than irritating to the slave owners.
 
5     It is estimated that of the approximately one million slaves, only a few thousand escaped every year between 1840 and 1860. Though small in number, the daring escapes were often exaggerated when reported in the various newspapers.

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