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The John Hossack House

The John Hossack House

When we think about the history of slavery in the United States we often think of the Underground Railroad and attempts made by Abolitionists and others to help slaves escape from the South to the free states of the North and Canada. What we don’t realize is that despite the near mythic role popular history has ascribed to it, the Underground Railroad was in its heyday (1850-1860) the route to freedom for fewer than 30,000 slaves by most estimates – out of a slave population of 4.5 million.

There are many places throughout the Northeast and parts of the Midwest where the Underground Railroad’s stations and safe houses can still be seen.

The Bialystoker Synagogue

The Bialystoker Synagogue on New York's Lower East Side

The Bialystoker Synagogue on New York’s Lower East Side

The Bialystoker Synagogue located in New York City, it was built as the Willett Street Methodist Episcopal Church in 1826. The building contains one of the railroad’s rest stops in a small attic above its balcony.

The Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House

The Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House

The Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House

The Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House, Odessa, DE: It is said that Harriet Tubman once hid in this still-functioning meeting house built in 1785.

The Erastus Farnham House

The Erastus Farnham House

The Erastus Farnham House

The Erastus Farnham House, Fremont, IN: Located just south of Indiana’s border with Michigan, this was an Underground Railroad stop. Indiana was a slave state, but Michigan was not.

The Octagon House

The Octagon House in Fond-du-Lac, WI

The Octagon House in Fond-du-Lac, WI

The Octagon House, Fond-du-Lac, WI: One of the many hidden passages in this 1856 house was used to shelter slaves heading to freedom.

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Painting of runaway slaves who lived in the Great Dismal Swamp

Painting of runaway slaves who lived in the Great Dismal Swamp

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, VA and NC: Runaway slaves did not only find refuge in brick and mortar safe houses, many hid in the swamp to escape detection until they could safely make their way to freedom. One of Harriet Tubman’s novels, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, is about the Maroon’s who lived here.

John Hossack House

The John Hossack House

The John Hossack House

John Hossack House, Ottawa, IL:  Abolitionist John Hossack sheltered fugitive slaves in this house. In 1860 he was convicted in Federal Court of violating the Fugitive Slave Law.

Reverend George B. Hitchcock House

Hitchcock House

Hitchcock House

Reverend George B. Hitchcock House, Lewis, IA: Hitchcock was an Abolitionist who hid slaves here in the 1850s.

Mount Zion A.M.E. Church

Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church

Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church

Mount Zion A.M.E. Church, Woolwich Township, NJ: This historic 1799 church was an important stop on the Underground Railroad.

Photo by Biden For President/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch

In the two weeks since Election 2020, the country has oscillated between joy and anger, hope and dread in an era of polarization sharpened by the forces of racism, nativism, and hate. Still, truth be told, though the divisive tone of this moment may only be sharpening, division in the United States of America is not a new phenomenon.

Over the past days, I've found myself returning to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who, in 1967, just a year before his own assassination, gave a speech prophetically entitled "The Other America" in which he vividly described a reality that feels all too of this moment rather than that one:

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