Eric Foner debunks Underground Railroad myth

Historians in the News
tags: Eric Foner, Underground Railroad

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eric Foner, the Dewitt Clinton Professor of History at Colombia University, gave a presentation Monday afternoon in the Georgia Museum of Art to a packed auditorium. 

Foner’s lecture was based on his upcoming book “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad,” which comes out in Jan. 2015. His previous novel, “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery,” received the Pulitzer Prize, among other distinguished awards.

During the presentation, Foner confronted myths and misconceptions surrounding the Underground Railroad.

“Sometimes the world you are living in just poses questions to you that you feel the need to look to history to answer,” he said of why he chose the subject of the Underground Railroad for his latest book.

Foner said no one knows where the term “Underground Railroad” originated, but that by the 1850s it was in wide use.

“The first scholarly study on the Underground Railroad was done around the 1890s by a professor at Ohio State University called Wilbur Siebert who sent questionnaires out to a whole lot of elderly ex-abolitionists with questions about the Underground Railroad,” he said...

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