Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

By Schweninger, Loren | The Historian, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad


Schweninger, Loren, The Historian


Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad. By Eric Foner. (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2015. Pp. xiii, 320. $26.95.)

During the past quarter century, a number of books, articles, and historical sites, as well as a museum and a variety of public history venues, have taken up the cause of how slaves in the Southern states escaped to the North through networks of conductors who assisted them from one location to another until they reached the Promised Land. Gateway to Freedom focuses on one city, New York, during the three decades before the Civil War while also viewing the locations in the metropolitan corridor from Philadelphia to Brooklyn, Albany, Syracuse, and Canada.

Perhaps better than any other study, Gateway to Freedom analyzes the realities of attempted slave escapes from the South to the North, noting how fugitives were often on their own or assisted by fellow blacks during the early stages of escape. In the North, slaves often found assistance from antislavery advocates: abolitionists, Quakers, and others opposed to human bondage. "The 'underground railroad' should be understood not as a single entity," Eric Foner writes, "but as an umbrella term for local groups that employed numerous methods to assist fugitives, some public and entirely legal, some flagrant violations of the law" (15).

In examining the subject, Eric Foner weaves together the political, economic, legal, religious, and social circumstances of whites and blacks in New York and other locales who attempted to assist runaway slaves. …

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