Place yourself in this story:

You'are an enslaved person with no rights whatsoever. You're treated inhumanely, physically abused,and forced to work long hours in brutal conditions for little to no wage.

You have absolutely no freedom. You're desperate. You decide to escape. You know you'll be risking your life, but it's worth it.

Enslaved man with cotton field in the background saying to another person,

You wonder: Will anyone help me?

A secret network exists

Profile of a man speaking and saying,

The network consists of people willing to risk their own lives to help you. A plan is hatched.

One night, an "agent"' puts you into a wooden cargo box. It's dark and cramped, and you stay there for hours as you're loaded onto a wagon and transported. Finally, the box is opened and you're in a safe haven. Kind strangers feed, clothe, and hide you.

Your journey continues in this way, until weeks later, you finally arrive in the North where you're now free.

The Underground Railroad (1790's-1860's)

You've just experienced a story about the Underground Railroad,America's first civil rights movement during which freed Black people and sympathizers from many walks of life united to fight the evil of slavery in the United States.

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The Underground Railroad consisted of a network of guides, routes, and safe houses to assist enslaved Black people escape to freedom. More than 100,000 men, women, and children fled to safety in the Northern United States and Canada via the Underground Railroad.

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Lesson #1: Stand up for what you know is right

Martin Luther King giving a speeach at a podium saying, The time is always right to do right.'

Recognizing slavery as a terrible evil, many people put their own lives on the line to help save the enslaved by guiding them, hiding them, and helping them once they reached freedom. Freed slaves along with Quakers and other supporters took part in the network even though they were afraid and faced death, jail, or a return to slavery if they were caught.

In addition to participating along the routes, many supporters stood up by:

  • Speaking at rallies

  • Funding the effort

  • Writing persuasive articles

How to apply this concept today:

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  • Be an upstander if you see someone being bullied

  • Explore the United Nations website to learn about current-day human rights issues

  • Contact your government representatives to advocate for causes you believe in

Lesson #2: United is stronger than divided

Two men conversing, One says, 'When we come together, love is the most powerful ting in the world.'

The Underground Railroad consisted of a network of people from different races, religions, and genders working together for a common cause they strongly believed in. United, they made an enormous difference. What started as a small, quiet opposition by a few eventually grew and led to the emancipation of all enslaved people.

Frederick Douglass, a freed slave and famous abolitionist said:

I would unite with anybody to do right and nobody to do wrong.

Portrait of Frederick Douglas

How to apply this lesson today:

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  • Strike up a conversation with a classmate, coworker, or neighbor who is of a different race, religion, or culture than you — find out what you have in common

  • Increase financial equity and job growth in underserved communities by supporting a Black-owned business

  • Join others to find a cure for cancer by participating in the Relay for Life

  • Consider helping to finance a microloan for a person in a developing nation through a crowdfunding site such as Kiva

Lesson #3: The privileged must take action

Bernie Sanders animatedly saying,

During the Underground Railroad era, some privileged people stood up by taking these actions:

  • Using their money to fund the movement through vigilance committees

  • Opening their homes as waystations along the routes

  • Purchasing enslaved individuals and families, then setting them free

  • Providing clothing, education, and even land to freed slaves

  • Teaching newly freed people how to read

How we can apply this lesson today:

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  • Donate gently used clothing and household items to those in need

  • Volunteer for a local food pantry or soup kitchen

  • Teach your native language to newcomers in your country

  • Shop Fair Trade products on sites like this one

Take Action

Woman confidently saying,

Learn more about the Underground Railroad and find inspiration about ways to help your fellow humans who are in need. When caring people unite for a common cause, great things are possible!


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