In 2004 a center in honor of the "underground railroad" opens in Cincinnati. The railroad was unusual. It sold no tickets and had no trains. Yet it carried thousands of passengers to the destination of their dreams.

The Freedom Givers
Fergus M. Bordewich
1 A gentle breeze swept the Canadian plains as I stepped outside the small two-story house. Alongside me was a slender woman in a black dress, my guide back to a time when the surrounding settlement in Dresden, Ontario, was home to a hero in American history. As we walked toward a plain gray church, Barbara Carter spoke proudly of her great-great-grandfather, Josiah Henson. "He was confident that the Creator intended all men to be created equal. And he never gave up struggling for that freedom."

2 Carter's devotion to her ancestor is about more than personal pride: it is about family honor. For Josiah Henson has lived on through the character in American fiction that he helped inspire: Uncle Tom, the long-suffering slave in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Ironically, that character has come to symbolize everything Henson was not. A racial sellout unwilling to stand up for himself? Carter gets angry at the thought. "Josiah Henson was a man of principle," she said firmly.

3 I had traveled here to Henson's last home -- now a historic site that Carter formerly directed -- to learn more about a man who was, in many ways, an African-American Moses. After winning his own freedom from slavery, Henson secretly helped hundreds of other slaves to escape north to Canada -- and liberty. Many settled here in Dresden with him.

4 Yet this stop was only part of a much larger mission for me. Josiah Henson is but one name on a long list of courageous men and women who together forged the Underground Railroad, a secret web of escape routes and safe houses that they used to liberate slaves from the American South. Between 1820 and 1860, as many as 100,000 slaves traveled the Railroad to freedom.

5 In October 2000, President Clinton authorized $16 million for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to honor this first great civil-rights struggle in the U. S. The center is scheduled to open in 2004 in Cincinnati. And it's about time. For the heroes of the Underground Railroad remain too little remembered, their exploits still largely unsung. I was intent on telling their stories. 2000年10月,克林顿总统批准拨款1600万美元建造全国“地下铁路”自由中心,以此纪念美国历史上第一次伟大的民权斗争。中心计划于2004年在辛辛那提州建成。真是该建立这样一个中心的时候了。因为地下铁路的英雄们依然默默无闻,他们的业绩依然少人颂扬。我要讲述他们的故事。

6 John Parker tensed when he heard the soft knock. Peering out his door into the night, he recognized the face of a trusted neighbor. "There's a party of escaped slaves hiding in the woods in Kentucky, twenty miles from the river," the man whispered urgently. Parker didn't hesitate. "I'll go," he said, pushing a pair of pistols into his pockets.

7 Born a slave two decades before, in the 1820s, Parker had been taken from his mother at age eight and forced to walk in chains from Virginia to Alabama, where he was sold on the slave market. Determined to live free someday, he managed to get trained in iron molding. Eventually he saved enough money working at this trade on the side to buy his freedom. Now, by day, Parker worked in an iron foundry in the Ohio port of Ripley. By night he was a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, helping people slip by the slave hunters. In Kentucky, where he was now headed, there was a $1000 reward for his capture, dead or alive.

8 Crossing the Ohio River on that chilly night, Parker found ten fugitives frozen with fear. "Get your bundles and follow me, " he told them, leading the eight men and two women toward the river. They had almost reached shore when a watchman spotted them and raced off to spread the news.

9 Parker saw a small boat and, with a shout, pushed the escaping slaves into it. There was room for all but two. As the boat slid across the river, Parker watched helplessly as the pursuers closed in around the men he was forced to leave behind.

10 The others made it to the Ohio shore, where Parker hurriedly arranged for a wagon to take them to the next "station" on the Underground Railroad -- the first leg of their journey to safety in Canada. Over the course of his life, John Parker guided more than 400 slaves to safety.

11 While black conductors were often motivated by their own painful experiences, whites were commonly driven by religious convictions. Levi Coffin, a Quaker raised in North Carolina, explained, "The Bible, in bidding us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, said nothing about color."

12 In the 1820s Coffin moved west to Newport (now Fountain City), Indiana, where he opened a store. Word spread that fleeing slaves could always find refuge at the Coffin home. At times he sheltered as many as 17 fugitives at once, and he kept a team and wagon ready to convey them on the next leg of their journey. Eventually three principal routes converged at the Coffin house, which came to be the Grand Central Terminal of the Underground Railroad.

13 For his efforts, Coffin received frequent death threats and warnings that his store and home would be burned. Nearly every conductor faced similar risks -- or worse. In the North, a magistrate might have imposed a fine or a brief jail sentence for aiding those escaping. In the Southern states, whites were sentenced to months or even years in jail. One courageous Methodist minister, Calvin Fairbank, was imprisoned for more than 17 years in Kentucky, where he kept a log of his beatings: 35,105 stripes with the whip.

14 As for the slaves, escape meant a journey of hundreds of miles through unknown country, where they were usually easy to recognize. With no road signs and few maps, they had to put their trust in directions passed by word of mouth and in secret signs -- nails driven into trees, for example -- that conductors used to mark the route north.

15 Many slaves traveled under cover of night, their faces sometimes caked with white powder. Quakers often dressed their "passengers," both male and female, in gray dresses, deep bonnets and full veils. On one occasion, Levi Coffin was transporting so many runaway slaves that he disguised them as a funeral procession.

16 Canada was the primary destination for many fugitives. Slavery had been abolished there in 1833, and Canadian authorities encouraged the runaways to settle their vast virgin land. Among them was Josiah Henson.

17 As a boy in Maryland, Henson watched as his entire family was sold to different buyers, and he saw his mother harshly beaten when she tried to keep him with her. Making the best of his lot, Henson worked diligently and rose far in his owner's regard.

18 Money problems eventually compelled his master to send Henson



   In 2004 a center in honor of the "underground railroad" opens in Cincinnati. The railroad was unusual. It sold no tickets and had no trains. Yet it carried thousands of passengers to the destination of their dreams. 2004年,一个纪念“地下铁路”的中心将 ...


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