Another view on independence: Reflections on the Underground Railroad

In time for the Fourth of July holiday, PCHR Commissioner Sarah E. Ricks drew attention to the Underground Railroad — that storied 19th century interstate passage to freedom for countless African Americans held in bondage whose “trains” included stops in Philadelphia. Residents here — from the formerly enslaved to abolitionists — played a vital role in “conducting” this human-powered network of conscience and freedom, masterminding escape routes and raising money for the cause.

For Ricks, it was fitting at this time of year to focus on our responsibility to preserving and advancing the history and legacy of these heroes as the nation prepares to celebrate its Independence Day. She elaborated on this in a letter to the Chestnut Hill Local in its July 2 edition:

PCHR Commissioner Sarah E. Ricks, Esq.

PCHR Commissioner Sarah E. Ricks, Esq.

Underground Railroad history deserves better

Philadelphia’s anti-slavery and Underground Railroad history is just as fascinating as the events celebrated on 4th of July. This American history should be more accessible to tourists.

Philadelphia’s African-American leaders had significant roles in the abolitionist movement. Former slave Richard Allen founded the Mother Bethel Church and, with his wife Sarah, was involved in hiding, retraining, and educating freedom-seeking slaves, sometimes using the church as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Wealthy Robert Purvis devoted most of his time to the largely African-American “vigilance” organizations founded to aid fugitive slaves. James Forten, a wealthy sail maker, supported abolition by buying the freedom of slaves, financing William Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper and operating an Underground Railroad station.

An interracial group – including Forten’s wife and three daughters and Lucretia Mott – founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. William Still recorded interviews with hundreds of escaping slaves and published those accounts in his book “The Underground Railroad” . . ..

Read the entire letter here.


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