Preserving African American History With the Underground Railroad
Through the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program, the National Park Service demonstrated the significance of the Underground Railroad not only in the eradication of slavery, but as a cornerstone of our national civil rights movement. The National Park Foundation's African American Experience Fund helped sponsor the program with grants to support and preserve the Underground Railroad's unique place in African-American history.
The Underground Railroad refers to efforts of enslaved African Americans to gain their freedom by escaping bondage. Wherever slavery existed, there were efforts to escape, at first to maroon communities in remote or rugged terrain on the edge of settled areas. Their acts of self-emancipation made them "fugitives" according to the laws of the times, though in retrospect, a "freedom seeker" seems a more accurate description. While most freedom seekers began their journey unaided and many completed their self-emancipation without assistance, each decade in which slavery was legal in the United States saw an increase in active efforts to assist escape. In many cases the decision to assist a freedom seeker may have been a spontaneous reaction as the opportunity presented itself. However, in some places, particularly after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the Underground Railroad was deliberate and organized. NPF supported the Escaping to Destinations South: The Underground Railroad, Cultural Identity, and Freedom along the Southern Borderlands conference which explored how freedom seekers seized opportunities to escape slavery into Spanish Florida, the Caribbean Islands, Indian Territory, Texas, and Mexico, and how this helped to shape and transform new regional cultural identities.