The Underground Railroad was an informal system by which fugitive slaves escaped from slavery in the American South in the mid 1800s. Using clandestine trails, meeting places, safe havens, and special codes, abolitionists called “conductors” helped lead escaped slaves to the northern United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico. In response, the Federal Government passed a series of Fugitive Slave Laws, which put conductors and escapees at great personal risk.
The Underground Railroad’s successes reflected the dedication of the abolitionist movement and contributed greatly to tensions between North and South in the years leading up to the Civil War. To this day, it endures as a symbol of freedom in American history.
The African American Department, Social Sciences and History Department, and Maryland Department each offer a great deal of information on the Underground Railroad. To begin your research, start with the following resources:
Print resources on the Underground Railroad
We offer a wide range of books and printed materials on the Underground Railroad. If you require any assistance in locating these materials, please ask a librarian.
Our databases provide information that is searchable, concise, and cross-referenced for finding information on related topics.
There are many sites on the Internet dedicated to the preservation of the legacy of the Underground Railroad. In addition to information on the Railroad and its legacy, many of these sites offer photographs, songs, and interactive features.
Departmental Vertical Files
The African American Department has access to newspaper articles, maps, brochures, and periodical pieces that address numerous aspects of the Underground Railroad. Ask a librarian if you need assistance.
Biographical sources on Harriet Tubman and other historical figures associated with the Underground Railroad are available.
The African American Department vertical files contain numerous local newspaper articles on Harriet Tubman, her legacy, and her ties to Maryland.
Databases such as African American History Online and African American Biographical Database can also be used to locate biographical sketches and profiles of notable African Americans.
Autobiographical narratives describing life in slavery and escapes on the Underground Railroad are available in the library. Many such narratives can be found in the African American Department.
Blight, David W. Passages to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in History and Memory. Washington: Smithsonian Books, 2004. E450 .P27 2004 q (African American/Social Sciences & History).
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati offers an in-depth collection of essays by scholars, photographs, and illustrations to document the enterprise.
Gorrell, Gena K. North Star to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad. New York: Delacorte Press, 1997. E450 .G68 1997 (African American/Social Sciences & History/Children’s)
This accessible account of the Underground Railroad is designed for younger readers and features numerous photographs and illustrations that recreate the experiences of “passengers” and their “conductors”.
Siebert, Wilbur. The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom. New York, Macmillan, 1898. E450 .S57 (African American)
Comprising fifty years of research, this book includes interviews and excerpts from diaries, letters, biographies, memoirs, speeches, and other firsthand accounts.
Landau, Elaine. Fleeing to Freedom on the Underground Railroad. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 2006. E450 .L3155 2006 (African American/Social Sciences & History)
Fleeing to Freedom on the Underground Railroad uses letters, newspaper articles, biographies, and autobiographies to tell the Underground Railroad’s stories of pain and courage to young readers.
Sawyer, Kem Knapp. The Underground Railroad in American History. Springfield: Enslow Publishers, 1977. E450 .S29 1997 (African American/Social Sciences & History)
The Underground Railroad in American History describes the Underground Railroad and the historical events surrounding it and presents the stories of some of its conductors.
Hagerdorn, Ann. Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. E450 .H165 2002 (African American/Social Sciences & History)
Beyond the River brings to life the dramatic story of the forgotten heroes of the Ripley, Ohio line of the Underground Railroad.
Bordewich, Fergus M. Bound for Canaan. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. E450 .B735 2005 (African American/Social Sciences & History)
Bound for Canaan tells the stories of the men and women who invented the black underground in New York City.
The Pratt Library subscribes to a number of electronic databases, many of which can be accessed either in the library or from home with a Pratt Library Card.
African American Biographical Database (accessible in all Pratt Library branches)
The African American Biographical Database (AABD) brings together in one resource the biographies of thousands of African Americans, many not to be found in any other reference source.
African-American History and Culture (accessible in all Pratt Library branches, or from home with your Pratt Library card)
This electronic encyclopedia includes thousand of entries covering the entire breadth of African American history - from African beginnings through the slave trade and the Civil Rights Movement to the present. Entries are organized into five sections: Biographies, Encyclopedia, Historical Documents, Gallery and Maps and Charts.
Biography and Genealogy Master Index (accessible in all Pratt Library branches)
The Biography and Genealogy Master Index is a comprehensive index to more than 10 million biographical sketches in over 1,000 current and retrospective biographical dictionaries, covering both contemporary and historical figures throughout the world.
Biography Resource Center (accessible in all Pratt Library branches, or from home with your Pratt Library card)
The Biography Resource Center is a comprehensive database of biographical information on more than 180,000 people from throughout history, around the world, and across all disciplines and subject areas.
History Resource Center: U.S. (accessible in all Pratt Library branches, or from home with your Pratt Library card)
The History Resource Center: U.S. provides integrated access to over 1,000 historical (primary) documents, more then 30,000 reference articles, and over 65 full-text journal covering themes, events, individuals and periods in U.S. history from pre-Colonial times to the present.
National Geographic Online Presents the Underground Railroad
This interactive site takes you aboard the Underground Railroad on a journey to freedom.
National Park Service: Taking the Train to Freedom and Network to Freedom
Provides links to U.S. National Park Service resources on The Underground Railroad, including profiles of parks and historic landmarks, publications, archaeological findings, programs, and special initiatives.
Pathways to Freedom, Maryland and the Underground Railroad
Travel back to the 1800's and become an eyewitness to history. Includes an interactive timeline, music and various photographs.
Maryland’s Cooling Springs Farm
The official Web site of an Underground Railroad safe house that still exists near Adamstown, Maryland.
Underground Railroad Flight to Freedom
The Flight to Freedom Web site provides facts about the Underground Railroad, information on the Flight to Freedom Program Tour, our program partners, UGRR Summer Camp and its curriculum.
Whispers of Angels
The companion website for the documentary of the same name includes additional background material and images. The page gives important historical and biographical facts about the Underground Railroad and brings the story to the present with photographs of routes and landmarks as they look today.
The William Still Underground Railroad Foundation, Inc.
This Web site contains information about William Still, a leader of the Underground Railroad who resided in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Still provided assistance to fugitive slaves, many of them from Maryland and Virginia.
Clinton, Catherine. Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2004. E444 .T82 C57 2004 (African American/Social Sciences & History).
A biography of Harriet Tubman that retraces her life from slave girl to celebrated abolitionist.
Larson, Kate Clifford. Bound For The Promised Land. New York: Ballantine Books, 2004. E444 .T82 L37 2004. (African American/Social Sciences & History)
A biography of Harriet Tubman’s life that attempts to strip away myths and misconceptions and present “stunning new details about Tubman’s accomplishments, personal life, and influence…”
Humez, Jean M. Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003. E444.T82 H86 2003 (African American/Social Sciences & History)
Part biography, part compendium of Tubman’s first person interviews and stories, this book provides a revealing look at the life and legend of Harriet Tubman.
Slave Narrative Sources
Coffin, Levi and William Still. Fleeing For Freedom. Chicago: Ivan R. Lee, 2004. E450 .F535 2004 (African American/Social Sciences & History)
This book contains selected narratives of escaped slaves who provide firsthand descriptions of their experiences on the Underground Railroad.
Slave Narratives. New York: Library of America, 2000. E444 .S56 2000 (African American/Social Sciences & History)
A collection of ten slave narratives from a diverse group of writers, including Olaudah Equiano and Sojourner Truth.
The Abolitionists. Jim Fleet. Denver: KRMA-TV. Agency for Instructional Technology,1987. (Video Reserve)
This program focuses on a reform movement that shook the union to its foundation: the abolition of slavery.
Follow the Drinking Gourd. John McCally. Westport, Conn.: Rabbit Ears Productions ; Canada, 2000. (Video Reserve)
Based on the song "Follow the Drinking Gourd," this children’s program explores the Underground Railroad.
A Fragile Freedom: African American Historic Sites. Judy Richardson. New York: The History Channel, 2002. (Video Reserve)
A tour of the places where African American history was made - from the Underground Railroad to the sites where the drama of the civil rights movement took place.
Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Phil Anderson. Del Mar, CA: CBS Television Network Production, 1963. (Video Reserve)
This video portrays slavery and the flight for freedom in human terms by focusing on the work of Harriet Tubman and her “railroad” to the North.
Roots of Resistance. Susan Bellows. United States: PBS Video, 1990. (Video Reserve)
Recounts the story of the Underground Railroad through narratives of escaped slaves.
Safe Harbor. Lisa and Rich Gensheimer. North East, Pa.: Main Street Media, 2003. (E450.S24 2003)
In the same way that fogs envelops a town, the Underground Railroad is clouded by myth and obscured by legend.
Underground Railroad. Susan Michaels. New York: A&E Home Video. 2002 (E450 .U53 2002)
The Underground Railroad was not really a railroad, nor was it always underground. It was an informal network of people and hiding places that helped slaves escape the American South.
Whispers of Angels: A Story of the Underground Railroad. Sharon K. Baker. Wilmington, Delaware: Jansen Media Group 2004. (E450 .W57 2004)
Thomas Garrett, William Still and Harriet Tubman, along with hundreds of lesser-known and nameless opponents of slavery, formed a Corridor of Courage stretching from Maryland's eastern shore through the length of Delaware to Philadelphia and beyond.
If you have any questions about how to get started or need help using some of these sources, please e-mail us at email@example.com, call at (410) 361-9287, or contact us by mail:
African American Department
Enoch Pratt Free Library
State Library Resource Center
400 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201