Thesis: The Underground Railroad was an act of resistance because of the sordid slavery system in the South, the racial intolerance and injustice of society and the nature of the risk associated with traveling on the “Underground Railroad”.
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The Underground Railroad was an act of resistance due to the sordid slavery system in the South. The well-being of the slaves was constantly undermined by the white slave master who under the law, were given the rights own slaves. This resulted in the slaves resisting by running away in pursuit of freedom from the unfair slave system, that did not only demoralize them of basic human rights, but also put their lives at risk. An example of the sordid slavery system that forced the slaves to rebel was written as an entry in William Still’s Journal, it spoke of the case of one Henry Stewart who arrived in Norfolk on June 19th 1855 and recounted on how he worked for one James Monroe. The slave agreement between the two parties was that the former was to be paid $182 dollars per year for his labor. Although, he was a hard worker, his employer failed to pay him even a cent thereby forcing him to flee to Norfolk leaving his wife and children behind. (Still, 1855). Another piece of evidence, that shows that the Underground Railroad was an act of resistance to the slavery system was a wanted poster offering a $150 reward for the capture of a runaway slave by the name of Henry May. The illustration provides an explanation of how the slave owners operated exercised their power and authority to their advantage by mistreating the slaves.
Secondly, the Underground Railroad was an act of resistance due to the simple fact that the owners were not in favor of the slaves having the same rights and privileges that they had in society. This feeling from the slave owners fueled the racial injustice that were imposed on the slaves by society. Slave owners denied the slaves the basics social amenities because of the color of their skin. Basic needs such as decent shelter and clothing was hard to come by as white slave owners discriminated slaves as people of color who deserved the least. In addition, the slave owners used flogging as a means of punishment to black slaves as they believed the blacks were lesser beings. William Still’s Journal provides numerous examples of different case of mistreatment that many of the runaway slaves he assisted on the Underground Railroad endured by their masters. One example that supports the above claim was that of Mrs. Maria Joiner, she arrived in Norfolk on 23rd June 1855. she recounts how her master Capt. F was very abusive. After his death, the captain’s daughter was given ownership and the abuse and violence towards her continued as she was viewed as a lesser being. (Still, 1855)
The third reason as to why the Underground Railroad was an act of resistance was that the risky nature of an escape for everyone involved. Nilgun Anadolu Okur describe in the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia, 1830-1860, that the Underground Railroad was a “railroad made up of loosely knit network of stations located a points a day’s journey apart.” (Okur,1995) To get to these points they would operate at night and it involved walking on foot for long distances in their pursuit for freedom. They used the North Star as a guide and traveled through bushes, risked their lives in waterways that also had the high probability of killing them. Okur, provides some examples of the conditions associated with northbound travel on the Underground Railroad. She explained that “during the day the fugitive would be concealed in a barn, cave, sail loft or hay rick and that most houses that were stations had secret passages and chambers to facilitate hiding and escaping.” (Okur,1995) Even the name ‘fugitives’ that was used to describe the runaway slaves illustrates the level of resistance and urgency in which the slave routes were identified.
Still, W. (1872). The Underground Railroad. Retrieved from http://digitalhistory.hsp.org/pafrm/doc/journalc