Pathways to Freedom: Maryland & the Underground Railroad

Article excerpt

Pathways to Freedom: Maryland & the Underground Railroad, http://pathways.thinkport.org/flash_home.cfm

Created and maintained by Maryland Public Television.

Reviewed September to November 201 1 .

Pathways to Freedom: Maryland & the Underground Railroad is a website hosted and maintained by Maryland Public Television written by Suzanne Chapelle, emeritus professor of history at Morgan State University, Ann Klimas, director of Instructional and Educational Design for Maryland Public Television, and excerpts from the Maryland State Archives. This website is designed for instructional purposes in teaching Middle School students about the history of the Underground Railroad in Maryland primarily with reference to the phenomenon throughout the Slave South. It also informs students regarding the broader slave experience in Maryland and the American South during the antebellum period of American history.

The importance of this website lies in the fact that Maryland's geography lent to heavy activity by fugitive slaves, and the most famous historical figure of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, escaped slavery from Maryland and returned to the state to help others from her family to escape to freedom. In addition, the most famous 19th century former slave, Frederick Douglass, also escaped slavery from Maryland. The website's content features both Tubman and Douglass. Maryland Public Television has produced a solid interactive website accessible to Middle School students, teachers and other educators, and anyone interested in this historical topic.

Pathways to Freedom provides rudimentary information and facts regarding the history and salient features of the Underground Railroad. Within the section "About the Underground Railroad," the writers have included ample information on the railroad including the time period, its purpose, why it was called the Underground Railroad, a large sub-section offering a rather comprehensive description of slavery in Maryland and the United States including a brief discussion on free blacks in Maryland, and some critical questions regarding how freedom-loving republicans, as Americans, would hold slaves. Written on a level comprehensible to middle school students there are other tidbits of knowledge describing what type of people worked on the Underground Railroad and how slaves escaped from slavery. This section is a veritable cornucopia of all sorts of facts that can and should lead to a plethora of questions from eager and interested students.

Particularly fascinating is the segment in which students can read passages from the narratives of former slaves from Maryland who escaped slavery during this period of history. Students can also listen to the very words of former slaves such as Harriet Tubman, J. W. C. Pennington, Caroline Hammond, and, of course, Frederick Douglass. In this portion, called "Eyewitness to History," students have an opportunity to read these texts critically as the website writers have included an ample set of analytical questions to guide student reading, prompt class discussion, or serve as a writing assignment. Assuming that history and social studies teachers will utilize this website, this section is an excellent gateway for students to gain an interest in reading slave narratives, which are invaluable in learning about American slavery. …