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Political and Social Movements

The Antislavery Movement

Who started the Underground Railroad?

American abolitionist, lecturer, and nurse Harriet Tubman (c. 1820–1913) set up the network to emancipate slaves. Tubman was motivated to do so after she had made her way to freedom in 1849, and then wished the same for her family: “I had crossed the line of which I had so long been dreaming. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom.”

For the next 10 years Tubman acted as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, making at least 15 trips into southern slave states, and guiding not only her parents and siblings, but more than 300 slaves to freedom in the North. She was called “the Moses of her people” for her emancipation efforts. The journeys to freedom were demanding and often dangerous missions. Though Tub-man was small in stature, she possessed extraordinary leadership qualities. Author, clergyman, and army officer Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823–1911) called her “the greatest heroine of the age.”



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