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The Underground Railroad and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

Primary Source Set

The Underground Railroad (1850-1860) was an intricate network of people, safe places, and communities that were connected by land, rail, and maritime routes. It was developed by abolitionists and slaves as a means of escaping the harsh conditions in which African Americans were forced to live, and ultimately to assist them in gaining their freedom. Although securing one’s freedom was challenging, many enslaved persons escaped to free states in the North and to Canada. Free African Americans, however, faced the threat of being returned to a slaveholder as a result of the The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required that all escaped enslaved persons be returned, upon capture, to their masters. This primary source set provides teachers and students with resources that reveal the myriad sacrifices enslaved people made in order to gain their freedom, the effects of the Fugitive Slave Law on the lives of free African Americans, and the community that was built among abolitionists and enslaved people.

Additional resources for research

  1. Runaway Journeys, In Motion: The African American Migration Experience, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
  2. Underground Railroad: The William Still Story, PBS.
  3. The Fugitive Slave Law and Its Impact, Syracuse University.
  4. National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
  5. Oh Freedom! Sought Under the Fugitive Slave Act, DocsTeach, US National Archives.
  6. In Pursuit of Freedom: Crisis Decade, Brooklyn Historical Society, Weeksville Heritage Center, and Irondale Ensemble Project.

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