“Store clerk by day, stationmaster by night.” When I told people this when they inquired about my life, most thought that I simply had two jobs to make things meet, with my night shift at the train station. With my less than impressive choices in fashion and my disheveled appearance, I probably passed as another poor clerk living in overcrowded Philadelphia, struggling to survive.
There are some facts that most people didn’t know about me, though –
- Fact #1: I was born and raised in Virginia. My family owned slaves.
- Fact #2: I believed that just because slavery has been an integrated part of Southern life for decades, doesn’t mean that we, as white people, have the right to put down others’ lives to hold up our own lives.
- Fact #3: I didn’t work at a train station.
- Fact #4: I am an abolitionist.
In the South, the Underground Railroad was nothing more than a myth. It seemed ridiculous to the lot of us, anyhow – slaves were simply not physically or spiritually strong enough to journey from the South all the way to the North on foot. Or at least that’s what everybody in my family believed. My family always scoffed at the Underground Railroad, stating, “Those damned abolitionists think they’re right about everything – but slavery is worth more than they’ll ever know.”
But I knew. I knew that slavery could not be justified. Having hailed from a slave-holding family, I knew what slavery was. Most Northern abolitionists only opposed slavery because they believed it is wrong, according to God’s word – and that’s all. They had no real connection to slavery. I did. And the myth of the Underground Railroad captivated me – a movement to free those who had been unjustly enslaved. It was actually rather frightening, to see an entire race of people being reduced to nothing more than a couple acres of land. And to grow up with my family doing the exact same thing? I was disgusted. I needed to get away from slavery and from the queasy feeling I got in the pit of my stomach every time I walked by my family’s plantation.
So I moved to Philadelphia; close enough to my home state, but far enough from slavery. Committees affiliated with the Underground Railroad sprang up left and right in Philadelphia, and I quietly joined one, thinking of how ironic this entire situation was. After all, I am a Southerner, and my own family owns a plantation with slaves manning it – and here I am now, a stationmaster. While the Underground Railroad is not an actual railroad, the system very much resembles a railroad. The conductors, many posing as slaves themselves, sneaked into plantations during the dead of night and led the fugitives the route to the North. The station masters were those who provided their homes as a haven for a night before the slaves started their route towards the North again. And the stockholders? Those were the people who contributed money and goods towards our cause. After all, we need to provide our runaways somehow. Our conductors follow various routes – many of them end up in the far North… if the runaways are lucky, they can even run all the way up to Canada.
I see hundreds of desperate, terrified faces every night. Going through several stationmasters and conductor during the entire span of their journey, I know that I will become just another face in their journey to freedom. There are many like me, and there is nothing particular about me that would make me stand out to those runaways. I am merely there to house them for a night. They will not remember me, nor will they remember exactly what I did for them, but I know that they will one day be safe in the arms of liberty because of me, and that is enough for me.
I am a clerk by day, a station master by night. And no, I do not work at a train station. I work for the Underground Railroad, providing a safe haven for fugitives, even it is only for a single night. I help free those who should already be free. And I am determined to help free these slaves.