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World-renowned historian Eric Foner provides the reader a profound and important new window into pre-Civil War America and the conflicts related to slavery that rippled through both the South and the North in Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad. The dramatic story of fugitive slaves and the antislavery activists who defied the law to help them reach freedom.
Foner won the Pulitzer Prize for History, Lincoln Prize, and the Bancroft Prize in 2011 for The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. He also won the Bancroft Prize in 1989 for his book Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution.
Now, building on fresh evidence, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian reconfigures our understanding of the national saga of American slavery and the perilous road to freedom. He brings memorable characters forward for their first appearance on the historical stage amid the controversy over fugitive slaves that inflamed the sectional crisis of the 1850s. This is the story of the courageous effort to fight slavery by "practical abolition," person by person, family by family. Foner makes especial use of a detailed record of slave escapes secretly kept by Sydney Howard Gay, one of the key organizers of the Underground Railroad.
The Underground Railroad grew from the work of the Vigilance Committees, formed in in Northern cities in the 1830s and 40s by free blacks and white abolitionists to protect fugitives and fight kidnappings. Slave catchers and gangs of kidnappers roamed these cities, especially New York City, seizing free blacks, often children, and sending them south to slavery.
The vigilance committees began collaborating to guide fugitive slaves up to Albany, Syracuse, and Canada. Forced to operate in secrecy by hostile laws, courts, and politicians, the Underground Railroad agents helped thousands of fugitive slaves reach freedom between 1830 and 1860.
Eric Foner is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University. In 2006 he received the Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching at Columbia University. He has served as president of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the Society of American Historians. He lives in New York City.
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