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tv   After Words  CSPAN  April 7, 2015 9:57pm-10:55pm EDT

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i knew my mom would be crying, and my dad was proud. and it was -- my dad's 82 years old. he showed up to the capitol. he usually walks with a cane, and he showed up and he didn't have is his cane. i said dad, do i need to send someone to your hotel to get your cane, and he straightens up real stiff, and he said i'm in the capitol, i don't need a cane. and he walked without his cane for the entire day. i knew he was proud. >> five newest members of congress share insight about how things work on capitol hill. join us for all their conversations each night at nine eastern on c-span. >> you're watching booktv in prime time. coming up next, "after words" with pulitzer prize-winning historian eric foner. he examines the efforts of free blacks and white abolitionists to secure freedom for fugitive slaves during the mid 19th
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century. the author recounts the development of the new york vigilance committee in 1835 and other organizations throughout the north that provided protection against slave kidnappings that occurred in new york city. he speaks with edna green medford, chair of the history department at howard university. >> host: we are joined today by professor eric foner dewitt clinton professor of history at columbia university. he is the author or editor of two dozen volumes, many of them award winners, including "the fiery trial: abraham lincoln and american slavery," which won the pulitzer, bancroft and lincoln prizes in 2011. professor foner, thank you for joining us today. >> guest: thanks very much for having me. >> host: "gateway to freedom: the hidden history of the underground railroad," how did you arrive at this subject and this title? >> guest: well, the title, i
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guess, is meant to reflect it's the book centers on new york city although it deals with a lot of other places, but the title is meant to suggest that new york was a kind of gateway. .. but she said to me in the sydney papers or shea butter columbia
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library, there's this document about fugitive slaves. i'm not sure where to go. you might find it interesting so i filed that away in one day was that they are not asked this box that had that. i had never heard of the sztokman called the record of fugitives. i've never seen it cited anywhere but basically for two years 1855 to 1856 a journalist and also an activist in the underground railroad recorded the experiences of over 200 men, women and children who came through new york city fugitive slaves on their way to freedom. being a journalist he really interviewed them and took down their stories who on them, why they escaped, why they escaped to help them them and how they got to new york where he sent them and even how much money is spent on train tickets for them so this is a remarkable document document. i decided to try to crack down the leads in the record of fugitives to see if i could make a picture of the underground railroad as it came through new york city.
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so the book began with the document. you know usually as you know edna you start with a historical question you try to find the sources that can answer it. here is the opposite. i started with a document and work outward from it trying to piece together a narrative of history. >> host: marvelous. what was the underground railroad, figure briefly describe exactly what it was and how it operated at how many people actually took advantage of the system? just go right well you know everybody and just in american history probably is heard the term the underground railroad. it's very widely known as a phrase. it's easy to say what it was not. it was not a highly organized by gil rye system with set routes and stations in station masters. it was much more loosely organized than that. the underground railroad i would say was a group of local networks of abolitionists
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activists. some in the south mostly once you got north of the mason-dixon line deep either in rural areas or cities like philadelphia and new york syracuse boston and they were -- though they communicated with each other and they were dedicated to helping fugitive slaves. the underground railroad was not in the south telling slaves to escape so the first thing was for slaves to actually run away in various modes that then they would make contact with either agents of the underground railroad or people who weren't agents but might know i know there's a guy up at the road and we may help him out. so it's a loose network. it rises and falls over time. the philadelphia committee went out of existence so one shouldn't take the row wrote
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literally that it was a set system. how many escaped? nobody knows because so much of this is the secret. i estimate, but this is an educated guess, maybe 1000 slaves a year got out of slavery to the north and canada in the 30 years before the civil war so that would be 30,000 people. that's a substantial number. there were 4 million slaves in 1860 so this is not destroying the institution of slavery but 30,000 people gaining freedom with the assistance of white and black activist is something i think we can look back on with pride in our history. >> host: you speak of the underground railroad as a quasi-public institution. what do you mean by that? >> guests:well and away maybe as a reviewer pointed out recently the subtitle of my book the hidden history might be slightly misleading. i was trying to say the new york
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part of this is unknown so it's kind of hidden but yes the people involved in the underground railroad were abolitionists and were involved in the abolitionist movement in on the one hand they are engaged in secret and illegal activities sheltering and assisting escaped slaves. on the other hand they go into public meetings. publishing a newspaper and petitioning the legislators of their stay pretty in some places they are actually holding sales and bazaars to raise money to help fugitive slaves. when you get into upstate new york the underground railroad was completely open. the key key activist there germane mogen himself a fugitive advertise in the newspapers. he said on the head of the underground railroad come anyone knows anything about this fugitive slave send them to me. he had fund-raising parties at his house. authorities were anti-slavery. they didn't bother so depending
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on where you were it was more or less secret and more or less open. in new york it was pretty secret because new york was a place with close ties to the south and a lot of public officials who are happy to help with the fugitive slaves. it wasn't as public as in syracuse are open-air places like that. >> host: let's talk about that for a minute. this pro-southern sentiment in new york trade slavery and to new york in 1827 but there is a strong sentiment in favor of the south for a long time after that. why is that? what is this connection with new york and the southern states? >> guest: this is something not emphasized. i'm a new yorker as you well know and they don't emphasize this in our view of our history. new yorkers pride ourselves on being a bastion of liberalism of tolerance multicultural city. it wasn't like that in the first
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part of the 19th century trade first of all slavery was a vigorous presence in new york in the colonial era and it lasted as you said down to 1827 and even after that there were slaves on the streets of new york. southerners visiting the city were allowed to bring slaves along with them for up to nine months until 1841. so that's 20 years before the civil war. there were still slaves visible on the streets of new york but the key thing as new york was economically tied to the slave south. new york merchants controlled the cotton trade. new york bankers financed the expansion of slavery in the south. new york ship elders built the ship's. the bows review the most important southern monthly periodical before the civil war which was actually published in new york city said new york city is -- depends on slavery as much as charleston does.
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so the economy and the city was very closely tied to the south and that had ramifications. business interests wanted to appease the south. politicians were pro-southern and their attitudes on the sectional conflict to the abolitionist movement in new york was quite small and weak compared to other places. on the other hand new york also had a vigorous free black community. people who were willing to take to the streets to protest the apprehension of fugitive slaves so in a sense new york is an epitome of the conflict. new york is a house divided just like the nation itself. >> host: your point is well taken that there is a vibrant free black community in new york and certainly very much involved in supporting these fugitives who are arriving. they are forming committees with white new yorkers as well of course but free black people have a permanent role to play in
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the underground railroad and what happens to people who are fugitives when they arrived in new york. why have we now not heard much about that before? >> guest: that is absolutely absolutely right and i do try to emphasize that in my book trade these so-called vigilance committees philadelphia new york boston syracuse which were what they call themselves these groups trying to help fugitive slaves were almost entirely black except the one in boston for a while had more whites but they were created by free blacks. the first one in new york city was created by david ruggles of black abolitionist. there were white abolitionist above. there were inter-racial organizations and much of the money came from blacks. most free black people were rather poor. they have limited economic opportunities. money was raised among them but in new york when they needed money they went to a well-to-do
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merchant who is a dedicated abolitionist and contributed a lot of money. they went to jared smith a wealthy upstate abolitionists. so whites were contributing money and taking part in the activities but most of it to betty is by free blacks and many of them are totally anonymous or unknown to us. black dockworkers for example they were fugitives who were hidden on ships. dockworkers notified local abolitionist activist. send them to the antislavery office. blacks who worked at the railroad. blacks who worked in hotels as cooks or domestic workers. of the seven or came to the hotel in new york as a slave they would say you can become free if you want. their activity was very important. why don't we hear more about that? you know after the civil war the white abolitionist wrote their own histories. they wrote their memoirs. they wrote about the underground
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railroad and even though there's a lot of valuable information they tended to make this a white enterprise in giving assistance to helpless black people. the heroes were the white abolitionist. i'm not trying to deny that in the slightest but the story was skewed in the reminiscences of the late 19th century and it's taken a long time for scholars to put the free black communities back at the center of assistance to a fugitive slave. >> host: indeed. you mentioned by 1830 there's the presence of militant abolitionism and accompanying that is a greater increase in flight from slavery. why are both happening at this particular time in american history? >> guest: there have been antislavery sentiment back to
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the new york society created in 1785 for 1786 and a push for abolition in new york. >> they set up the preschool to educate black children. they were uppercrust types and many of them owns slate even if they were campaigning for the abolition of slavery and certainly did not violate the law. they tried to help fugitive slaves legally but they said we are not going to violate state and federal law. to help people get out of slavery. the new generation of abolitionist comes about in the late 1820s and 1830s arrives out of the evangelical movement of the religious revivals which would inspire some white people and black people to rid society of the sin of slavery right away. they also have this militant
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free black community coming into its own which is partly because of the opposition to the colonization movement. in 1817 the colonization societies established dedicated to getting rid of the whole black population for the united states and free black finds that that -- find a tremendous threat to their status and they mobilize against it. by the 1830s you have these two groups to come together evangelical whites and militant blacks to form a much more activist and radical abolitionist movement and then they start assisting fugitive slaves and illegal ways. it's against the law to help a fugitive slave but they say this is the law of god, not the law of the land that we are abiding by here. i think were slaves to start escaping because of the knowledge that there are people willing to assist them. slate has -- slaves have escaped ever since slavery. back in the colonial period they
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were slaves to escape but there were no organization to help them and most of the slaves that were escaped probably got recapture. now you have groups being formed to our public lycee we are going to help fugitive slaves and news of that percolates back to the south inspires more people to try to escape. >> host: i think the main point you make is that running away has broader implications than just what that individual act would seem to suggest. the actions of fugitives and their allies forced onto center stage about the balance between federal and state authority. in which the slave states extended to the north and the relationship of the federal government to slavery. talk about that especially of how rendition became a source of debate from the very beginning of the nation's founding.
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>> it's in the constitution. this was debated at the constitutional convention and it has a fugitive slave clause. it doesn't mention the word slavery. persons held to labor escaping from one slave state to another. must be returned. like many parts of the constitutional it's begged their predestined thing left to return than the federal government the state or what procedures gratis fair trial or a judge or what happens. a national one but that also is very weak and it basically put the onus on the owner. if the owner goes to the north and grabs this fugitive he can take him back. slave hunters turn to grab fugitives in the north but there were people who were best of them -- resisted them. the federal government passes this new law the fugitive slave
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act which makes it a federal responsibility federal government will now send marshals into northern states to grab fugitives. it sets up a new office of federal commission who will hear this case and send them back. it even says the army can be used if there's a danger variety to send an army to take a fugitive back. this is a strict law very draconian strict punishments to people who help fugitive slaves or even the people who refuse to help the government and capturing them. and it led to a lot of opposition in the north on the basis it's ironic of states rights. this was the south demanding federal action to overturn local procedures local laws in the north. it's probably the most vigorous expansion of federal power over the states and the whole period before the civil war. so yes this is part of the run-up to the civil war. the sectional controversy of the
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fugitive slave issue becomes part of that but the point i wanted to make which is obvious in a way that we might forget it is that without slaves running away from that this would have happened. if the initiative of systems in the first place that triggers the conflict over fugitive slaves. it even though people did not run away thinking i'm going to become an issue in the national political debate their actions did help to force this sectional conflict onto the agenda of national politics. >> host: it's worth noting as well but that fugitive slave act of 1850 was probably the most un-american of loss because it didn't give the person who is being accused of having been a fugitive and a right to testify in court and it actually paid the commissioner more money to release the person to the would-be owner or the suggested
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honor than to actually release the person. so it's very un-american in that regard. guess who you are absolutely right. the fugitive could not testify on his own behalf. basically it was just a property operation. the owner would turn up with a deed or description say okay here's proof that i own this. this guy escaped and here's proof by on him. i purchased him. here's the deed and that's it. it was like finding a piece of furniture. it was a property operation something about a human being so the property has the right to testify in that case. no trial by jury, no local authorities involved and as you say many people who were not abolitionist at all found this an outrageous violation of civil liberties in the united states and therefore that's why it
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heightens sexual attention. far outside of the abolitionist movement they thought it was an unjust judicial procedure. >> host: of course the war, and president lincoln makes it very clear that the south has nothing to fear in terms of him attacking their domestic institutions including slavery. so in his first inaugural address he is very clear that he's going to enforce all of the laws including the fugitive slave act and so he had been very clear though before he was actually sworn in but he would not compromise on the expansion of slavery into the territories. but in terms of the fugitive slave act he was willing to actually ensure that act was enforced. as long as people who were truly free were not caught up in it and of course we could never be certain. >> guest: that's exactly
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right. lincoln as you well know was not an abolitionist. lincoln never claimed to be an abolitionist. before the war lincoln had said as you say he was strongly opposed to the western expansion of slavery but he never called for a violation of the fugitive slave law. lincoln was a lawyer, a man who believed in the rule of law. in a famous letter in 1855 to his friend joshua. >> a slaveowner in kentucky lincoln said about fugitives i hate to see them hunted down but i bite my lip and keep silent. why did he keep silent? because this was in the constitution. this was federal law. unlike the abolitionist he said i don't believe in a higher law. i don't believe they can abide by the moral law rather than the actual law on the books. in the secession crisis he said i don't care what we do about fugitive slaves. i'm willing to give concessions on that not on expansion of slavery although he said i would
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like the fugitive slave law to be amended so that a free person would not be caught up. given the way the fugitive slave law operates free people could easily be grabbed brought before commission someone says that guy used to be my slave and he was sent back. he can't testify on his own behalf. so they did enforce the fugitive slave law at the beginning of the war. slaves from the beginning ran away the union army in maryland let's say and the army sends them back to their owners early on. but pretty quickly that begins to fall apart. by the end of 1861 the army is no longer in most cases sending fugitives back and lincoln himself is saying if they get to our lines they are free. i'm not going to turn them back to slavery. this is a sign how the war itself very quickly begins to destabilize the institution of slavery. >> host: you introduce very courageous and sometimes quite colorful historical figures such
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as sidney howard who is the editor of the national anti-slavery standard william still who is a free black man who was a key underground railroad agent for people coming into philadelphia and he himself kept their record of some of the people who arrived really interesting details of their lives. then william j. and john jay the second who were very much involved in working with the fugitives sometimes actually defending them are representing them legally. i was most intrigued however by napoleon. tell us a little bit about that particular figure and how instrumental he was to fugitives arriving in new york. >> guest: napoleon certainly one of the most important figures and unknown.
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i have studied the 19th century and i've heard of william jan john jay and william still. i've never heard of him. when i started looking through this document the record of fugitives sidney howard gay will say i sent napoleon. who is this napoleon? eventually turns out louis napoleon a black man born in new york in 1800 which meant the law had been passed in 1799 for gradual emancipation so he weighed but he had to serve an apprenticeship of 21 years to his owner until he became fully free. he did that 71820s he finally becomes free. but basically by the 1840s napoleon is working in the office of sidney howard gay in what they call the anti-slavery office for the newspapers published that his main job is to help fugitive slaves. he scours the docks. he's out there looking for those hidden on boats.
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when william still sends people by train from philadelphia to new york louis napoleon meets them at the train depot and brings them to set a's office and then they are sent to upstate new york and canada. the interesting thing and louis napoleon goes to court to get rid of habeas corpus for people for slaves who were brought to the state trying to get them free. is interesting is he is illiterate. there are papers marked with an x. yet he is an activist. he's very courageous and he takes part in legal cases. here's a remarkable guy and i had known nothing about him until i discovered him in the gay manuscript. in one case napoleon bee lemine where napoleon adopted a writ of habeas corpus to free slaves brought in into the state by a virginian named lenin the lawyer
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for the virginian says in the case is this louis napoleon brought this case to the emperor of france and john jay who is representing the slaves says no is a much better man. so napoleon was a very upstanding and courageous man. >> host: and he is just one of many african-americans who are intimately involved in helping these fugitives. we know so much about harriet tubman who made several trips south to free relatives and people she didn't even know. we don't know about these other people. we don't know about people until now i think who are escaping either individually or en route. can you tell us a little bit about how their experiences showed the diversity of why people left, what they encountered along the way and
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what they actually received in terms of assistance once they arrived in new york? i'm thinking of people like wayne patsy matthews, william jordan. those folks whose names we have never heard before but had really interesting stories. >> guest: these were names in the record of fugitives, slaves who came to new york and gay wrote down their experiences. of course they have been lost to history up to this point. unlike harriet tubman who was pretty well-known of course. the thing that struck me the most in reading through this document is the incredible variety of ways in which people escaped, reasons for their escape and how they escaped. some escaped on foot which was the traditional idea. they went through the woods at night but actually most didn't escape that way. many escaped on boats. they were ship captains and
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willing to hide fugitives on their boats heading north for a fee. the slaves had to pay the money to do that. frederick douglass escaped by train in 1938. if he could get the free papers are free black person to get on a train and that was easier than doing it through the woods. some of them stole or appropriate -- appropriated the carriages but there owners and fled from maryland to pennsylvania. many of them escaped in groups. that was another thing that surprised me groups of relative sometimes women with small children and even edmundson -- infants. they were helped by all sorts of people below the mason-dixon line. they were generally helped by black people either slave or free who would point them on their way or give them some food or hide them along the way but they didn't go from station to station the way the sometimes thing.
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there weren't the stations in the south except for one or two. they just relied on the help of the black people they encountered until they reached wilmington delaware which was just below the mason-dixon line and where there was thomas garret and a regularized group in wilmington helping fugitives. once they got over the border and to pennsylvania they encountered many quaker farmers in southern pennsylvania who are willing to help them and then they were sent to philadelphia where women ran with the called the vigilance committee. he would quickly put them on a train up to new york and notify sidney howard gay by telegram two were coming or something like that. napoleon would meet them at the depot and then remember you could not stay in philadelphia. you could not stay in new york. you are liable to be captured in the moments of the was quickly to get them moving on to upstate new york which was safer. after 1850 you have to get to canada because of this fugitive
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slave law. you were not safe anywhere in united states. it's a commentary on our history that these were people we often think of people immigrating to the united states to seek freedom but here were people who had to flee the united states for another country to enjoy liberty. >> host: indeed. not just fugitives from slavery either but free black people who were leaving the united states and going to canada because they don't feel safe anymore in the north and certainly they don't feel safe there in the south. they don't even feel safe in places like philadelphia and new york even. >> guest: you are right. with first of all it's retroactive so you could have escaped 30 years before comer is the family lived perfectly law-abiding life in new york and you were still now liable to be grabbed and sent back to slavery. moreover because of the way the law operated which we discussed
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it was hard to prove you weren't the slave of a guy who claimed you were his slave. so yes the 18 50's is the only decade i believe where the black population of new york city actually declines. several thousand -- black people for your fugitive left for canada and some of them went to england to avoid the danger posed by the fugitive slave law. it affected the whole black community not just fugitive slaves. >> host: you mentioned the fact that women are sometimes fleeing as well. often with children in tow and it's a story that we don't hear very much about trade it is very difficult for women to do that. that women in the north are very much involved in helping these fugitives when they arrived in the city says well. can you tell us a little bit about what they are doing?
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>> guest: black and white women. in southern pennsylvania to have these quaker families including women. one of them who i wrote about a colorful interesting person grace anna lewis wrote in a memoir how part of the quaker role of family that helps fugitives. she wrote about she and other women have a sewing circle where they made clothing for fugitives. fugitives were wearing rags basically when they escaped our slave clothing and they look like slaves. she said we didn't want them to look like you were slaves as we were setting them off so we made this clothing for them. in new york and other cities women held these anti-slavery bazaars or fares were they sold things and sometimes the money would help fugitive slaves like the bake sales to help fugitives. in dark ag committee a black woman in new york city in 18 50's was holding these fares to raise money to help the fugitives. it was inter-racial and male and
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female working to assist fugitive slaves in the northern states. >> host: i'm always drop the fact that abolitionists are anti-slavery but many of them are also anti-black. how do you explain this? >> guest: racism as you know of course was deeply embedded in northern as well as southern society in the 19th century and this is something that i often find difficult to explain were students say how can you be anti-slavery and racist at the same time? first of all there were plenty of reasons to impose slavery that had nothing to do with race. you could think it's an economic drag on the country. you could think it gives the self too much blood of power and they block laws that northerners want. you can think as many people did
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that you don't want slavery going to the western territories because you don't like black people. people will want to settle in kansas or places like that they don't want blacks around and they don't want slaves are freed lakhs around. so they oppose the expansion of slavery on the ground. there's a whole range of reasons why people are critical of slavery and even the same person could be contradictory. louis tappan have i mentioned definitely in abolitionists no question about it. he would not hire black people to work in this business. he was a big berkin tile firm. he would not have black clerks working there. he said the reason is white people are not going to come into a shop that they see black people working there so i'm not hiring any blacks. on the other hand he hit blacks in his home in brooklyn heights fugitive slaves and they gave a lot of money to the antislavery movement. even in his own life you could see these contradictions which
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only proves that people and history are complicated. >> host: absolutely and despite this anti-black sentiment throughout the north you have some of the states passing personal liberty laws. what was the reaction of southerners to this? >> guest: personal liberty laws which many laws in states had tried to set up procedures either to make it more fair to make it an accused fugitive has to have a trial by jury or they try to impede their rendition of fugitives by saying no public official can help, no sheriff can arrest of fugitive. and some were alarmed by these laws because they seem to be a direct violation of the constitutional obligation. they said that they are going to
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pass laws and take away that consciousness no right we have a comely trust and hackemer trust they don't violate other constitutional rights. northern states are calling for nullification of the slave law which southerners we usually associate with the doctrine no vacation. >> host: absolutely. when the war is over and there are no more fugitive to assist these agents of the underground railroad and members of the vigilance committees rechannel that effort so to speak and they try to ensure equality for the newly emancipated. given the role, especially given the role of african-americans the role that african-americans have played in the union why was
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it so difficult are these people to convince white americans that african-americans were entitled to more than just freedom and they were entitled to equality as well? >> guest: libya maria child the great abolitionist in the first woman to edited the political newspaper she was the editor of the anti-slavery standard before sidney howard gay took over at that post. she said at the end of the civil war something to the effect that she said the problem is slavery was abolished because of a miserable military necessity. the abolitionist movement called on people mark penn south to have this moral transformation to understand and it meant that slavery was a sin and a crime and once they acknowledge that they would abolish slavery.
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slavery was abolished as a war measure and that is what the emancipation proclamation was. that doesn't carry with a commitment to equality. in the immediate aftermath of the civil war as a southern states pass measures trying to almost put blacks back into slavery and things like that many were aroused by that. we abolish slavery and these rebels want except that. so therefore a time they supported measures to protect the basic rights of the former slaves. the civil rights act of 1866 the 14th amendment giving blacks the right to vote in the south which wants his radical reconstruction. those have widespread support in the north for complicated
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reasons but then that wanes. by the 1870 racism is reasserting itself and the commitment to black equality not just in the south but in the north is weathering and that's the ending of reconstruction. >> host: why does that happen? certainly the racism was always there. but why by this time those than north throw up its hands and say enough already where not going to do anything else to help these people. >> as you know i wrote 600 page book about this and i started to summarize it. racism as you know has a history. it's not constant all the time. i think racism did wane a bit at the end of the civil war partly because the service of black soldiers 200 black soldiers fought in some of them died to save the nation and that
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commends northerners that they deserve basic citizenship rights. but by the 1870s people want normalcy. they don't want a constant crisis. afterward there is a desire to turn back to normal. the country also enters a severe economic -- which shift sentiment away from southern issues to economic questions. can't it's a complicated story and racism has a lot to do it then so does the rise of social darwinism among intellectuals and others. the idea that really you can't do much to change the hierarchy of the world. the people at the top are the fittest the survival of the fittest is to take those at the bottom blacks and try to uplift them is against nature. it's like trying to save a species which is going to be doomed because of the
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evolutionary conflicts or something like that. so obviously, become grounds for people that say we tried we did our best and there's nothing more we can do. it's up to black people themselves to forge their way in society. so the desire to intervene to help them is pretty much gone by the end of the 1870s. >> host: you are very familiar with the post-emancipation era and reconstruction so i feel comfortable asking you this question even though this is not really the focus of your book. given all that could have been done in the post-emancipation era and was not done or ended up failing even though there were efforts, what do you see as the greatest failure of the post-emancipation era? i know as historians we are not
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supposed to be involved but it's always fun to do that. so let's do that for the moment. >> guest: to meet the greatest failure is a simple thing which is the commitment to enforce it into law. the south and african-americans are going to plenty of problems after the war. there was no way you would have utopia right away after the into slavery. the south was devastated. the cotton economy the price of cotton was falling. african-americans came out of slavery with nothing in terms of money and physical possessions. there were those who think well if they had distributed land 40 acres and a mule than you would have given them an economic foundation to the freedom people at acquire. obviously it's better to have landed not to have planned if
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you are an agricultural society that would not have been a panacea either. white farmers were in dire straits who owned all the land in the late 19th century. to me the failure which could've been avoided think it's possible to imagine a scenario where this didn't happen is simply the enforcement of the law. the federal government same look we have passed these laws. we have change the constitution to create equality before the law for all people regardless of race and now we are going to enforce this. they enforce it for a while but the commitment waned and it took another 100 years as you know into what we call the second reconstruction of the 1960s when again the federal government finally stepped in. you had a mass movement forcing them to do it if horse but finally the federal government stepped in to enforce the law. the army and the national guard and once that happens things
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change. then people understand they have to abide by what the law is. the white people in the south didn't understand that by the 1870s. >> host: so no redistribution of land. it would have made much difference. >> guest: it would have been fine. i don't think it was the full solution. it's much better to have land but the plight of the small farmer was very desperate throughout the south and throughout the world in the last quarter of the 19th century. many whites who owned land lost their land to the next 20 years. that's why you have the populist movement in the 1890s. land in and of itself was not enough. >> host: in my own research i found and my research is primarily in virginia and that's very different from mississippi or alabama. >> guest: virginia is a very different situation. we are talking about the cotton south. >> host: in other areas there was a possibility that people would have at least been
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economically independent. they may have been very poor but they wouldn't have had to rely on the people who have enslaved them. >> guest: as you know in virginia and considerable number of african-americans did acquire land by 19008 but they still lost the rights. >> host: and they lost. >> host: and they lost deland too overtime. >> guest: eventually they lost the land, you are right. >> host: in terms of your review of the sidney howard j. records of the fugitives arriving in new york what's most surprised you about that collection? >> guest: what most surprised me was the incredible resourcefulness of these people. people who plan for years how they would escape or on the other hand people who just sees an opportunity that happened to come upon them. there's a boat and i'm have heard this cap is ready to take
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and i'm going right now. we are talking mostly about people from the upper south. you couldn't get from alabama to the north. that was too far so most of these people are from maryland district of columbia or virginia virginia. with slavery is a little different from the deep south although it still slavery obviously and it's just a variety of experiences. no two escapes are the same. now to personal experiences are the same. the one thing that is constant is the desire for freedom. when gay asked people why they escapes some gave specific reasons. my master treated me so brutally brutally. often they say my wife was sold or i was afraid i was going to be sold and i heard my master was losing money and had to sell the slaves but many just that i was tired of being a slave to i wanted to be free. so it's this colliders scope of
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experiences and impressions that struck me. by the way let me say the record of fugitives is now on line. we have digitalized it at columbia university with a transcript. anyone who wants to portrait and i recommend it to anyone interested in our history just google gay record of fugitives and you will find a link to it or it's been put out there by the columbia university library system and you can read through it. it's fascinating stuff. >> host: excellent. i know you are familiar with the william still collection who was in philadelphia and reported information as well. how did the two records compare or do they at all? >> guest: by the way william still's stuff is still on line. still kept these records, not all of them have survived but
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similar to gay but was not a journalist like gay. and still you don't get the rich stories that gay recorded because as i say he's a journalist and he is writing as if he is writing newspaper articles here. but what is important is you can use the two together to link up these stories so over half of the people who pass through new york city came from or were sent by william still from philadelphia. still talks about their experiences. gay talks about their experiences. still gives more information about how they got out of the south because he's closer to the south and gay gives more information about how they got to new york and where he sent them from new york so also you can use them to see if these stories are consistent. were the slaves making everything up? the stories were very consistent consistent. what they told still in what
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they told they'd were quite consistent and you can use the information to track their owners. when i first started looking at the documents i said is this true? here's a guy who says i escape from colonel hollingsworth's plantation and owned 50 slaves. let's go to the census and find colonel hollingsworth and various at exactly the right counting with his 50 slaves. you begin to find the stories are quite reliable when you can check them against other sources sources. also with still's information in the information going back to the "baltimore sun" to find fugitive slave as where the owner will put an ad in the newspaper. so-and-so has escaped. reward comer ran away report $100 for the person who will get him. it's a funny phrase. if anyone can get him and bring him back they will get $100. that's a good illustration of where they came from and who owned them and they often a
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physical descriptions. you put these up in cystic and you get a conference of picture. >> host: you get a sense of how successful these people were when they did escape to the north. other than frederick douglass of course. just go the problem is most of them disappear from the historical record. some of them pop up in the canadian census. there was a census in canada and the number of fugitives are living there reported in ontario opposite buffalo near toronto. there were these black settlements of freedom slaved blacks and fugitives. we know for some of them what they were doing they were married and had children. most of them disappear. we cannot track them down. some of the most famous ones you can. henry box brown who shipped to them in a crate through philadelphia. we know his life story and we know frederick douglass.
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harry jacobs who pops up in his records and tubman but most of them we know very little about what happened after they managed to get them. >> host: it's extraordinary how willing people were to go to great lengths for freedom. they are walking great distances, men and women. >> guest: saw them did. >> host: if i have to walk more than a few blocks on getting into my car to do with these people are walking sometimes 200 miles. it's extraordinary. these are extraordinary stories that you had in this volume. what did you like the reader to take from this? >> guest: think you by the way for saying that. this book is a little different. i've written a lot of books as you said that this one is different because i did want to humanize it trade not that the others were atomic sans but with
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these individual stories of unknown people which can be gleaned from the documents that we have put together here. i wanted people to get a sense of what it was like to escape and some of the dangers they felt being chased by dogs are going through freezing weather and walking hundreds of miles are being portrayed by someone. some of them were arrested and escaped from jail and continued on their way. i think it's the stories of slaves of ordinary people we know very little about other than how they escape and why they escape. i also would like people to take away admiration for the people working on the underground railroad. we have gone through tense period of race relations in the country in the last few months because of famous offense for taken place in ferguson and statin island new york. this is an example of lack of my
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people working together. it's an inter-racial movement of people working together for a just cause. that is i think part of our history. we can look back on it with great pride. >> host: there is a series that is airing this week titled book of and of course it's about those african-americans who evacuated in new york with the british at the end of the revolution so they are talking about an earlier fugitive population. have you had the opportunity to see the episode's? >> guest: i don't watch tv very much. i shouldn't say this since i'm on tv. i do want to see that trade i've heard about it and i hope it will be repeated or maybe i can stream it on line. people have told me about it. of course the book is in new york city during the revolution. new york was occupied by the
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british. the british offered freedom to any slave of a patriot, not a loyalist by the patriot who got to their lines and several thousand slaves got to new york city in order to gain their freedom and when the war was over george washington came to new york to negotiate the british are under an evacuation of new york. he said we would like all of the slaves back in general and to the commander said unfortunately i can't give you the slaves back because it would be dishonorable. we have promised these people their freedom. it would be dishonorable to them to turn them back to slavery. he was not an abolitionist. slavery was driving in the british and -- impart the time. he said we have promised the king keeps his promises. somewhere above 3000 slaves left with the british including a couple of george washington's own slaves. he said the clinton by the way i
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would like you to keep an eye out for a couple of my slaves. they scattered all over the place. some of them ended up in canada and some ended up in britain and simon sierra leone. some of them were sold back into slavery by the british. so they have their own very interesting stories. the fact that 3000 or so african-americans gain their liberty through the british not through the americans is another sign of the contradiction in american history right from the birth of our republic. >> host: the book is titled "gateway to freedom" the hidden history of the underground railroad.
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>> they want somebody who looks like he has stood up for them.


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