Apr 20, 1853: Harriet Tubman begins her liberation work with the clandestine escape route for enslaved Afrikans known as the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was a secret network of safe houses that provided food, shelter, clothing and passage to runaways seeking freedom from the genocide, brutality and terror of southern plantation enslavement. These “station” stops were maintained and carried out by free Afrikans, white abolitionists and allies of the anti-slavery movement.
While u.s law (i.e., The Fugitive Slave Act) rendered the Underground Railroad an illegal and criminal operation, fear of state retribution never stopped Tubman, her allies or abolitionists from assisting runaways in their journey to Freedom. For the runaway, the risk of failure was recapture, torture from being beaten by the whip, having an ear, foot or hand cut off, being blinded, resold deeper south and many times death. Punishment for anyone providing aid to runaways was both swift and severe from fines, jail time or being run out of town, to the loss of worldly possessions for the abolitionist.
Of the dozens of bi-annual return trips Tubman made to Maryland to carry her enslaved sisters and brothers into Freedom, she never lost a “passenger.” Together, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad helped hundreds – perhaps thousands – reach their freedom-dreams in northern states and Canada before she settled to a quieter life in Auburn, New York.