The Troubled Memory of the Underground Railroad: Mythmaking and Propaganda within the History we teach

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Easton Phillips
Stephen Porter


By Easton Phillips, History

Advisor: Stephen Porter

Awards: Capstone Competition: First Place Winner

Presentation ID: 79

Abstract: The majority of the Underground Railroad's history emerged between the 1880s and early 1900s. Decades before the Civil Rights movement, African Americans and their allies viewed the cooperation and camaraderie that came from the Underground Railroad's history as a step towards a racially harmonious America, while others argued that blacks alone lacked the ability or capacity to reach freedom without the assistance of whites. The prevailing narratives promoted the image of predominantly white conductors risking their lives to usher adventurous runaways to the promised land of freedom in defiance of southern slavecatchers. Through the analysis of scholarly literature and amateur reminiscences, it is possible to identify how this "popular image" of the Railroad was altered by the "winners" of America's ideological struggles. Within this same literature exists the reasoning for placing whites at the center of the Underground Railroad and the identity of those who benefitted from this "folklore history".

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Category: Social (In)Justice