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The “Underground Railroad” was not a real railroad, nor was it underground. Underground Railroad refers to a complex network of Americans, black and white, who gave food, shelter, and other assistance to enslaved blacks attempting to gain their freedom.
African Americans attempting to escape from slavery risked capture and punishment; and anyone giving aid to escaping slaves risked arrest and fines. Because they were breaking state and federal laws, most participants were very secretive about their activities and plans.
Indiana’s location just across the Ohio River from the slave state of Kentucky made it a popular destination for escaping slaves. The network of participants included free black men and women living in towns and settlements throughout Indiana as well as white abolitionists such as Levi Coffin and many other Hoosiers.
Today, students, teachers, and historians can learn about some of the Underground Railroad activities by reading stories that were written by the participants themselves. Levi Coffin’s book Reminiscences was first published in 1876; this is available online at Documenting the American South. Henry Bibb, a slave who escaped into Indiana, also published the story of his activities, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, which can be read here.
See below for more resources.