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As the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, located in Cincinnati, OH, makes plain, “During the 1800s, over one hundred thousand enslaved fugitives sought freedom through the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad is the symbolic term given to the routes enslaved Black Americans took to gain their freedom as they traveled, often as far as Canada and Mexico. Free Blacks, Whites, Native Americans and former slaves acted as conductors by aiding fugitive slaves to their freedom. This nineteenth-century freedom movement challenged the way Americans viewed slavery and freedom.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ann Hagedorn, and Katherine Ayres are three Ohio writers who have taken up the cause of freedom for Black Americans. Stowe, writing in the nineteenth century, was one of the first American women to make this cause her own—so much so that Abraham Lincoln, on meeting her during the Civil War, remarked, “So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!" Her depiction of Eliza crossing the Ohio River on ice floes has entered into the iconography of America.
Ann Hagedorn, a journalist living in the late twentieth century, picks up the story of slaves like Eliza who crossed the Ohio River into Ripley, Ohio—the site of freedom. Her book, Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad, springs from information from old trial records, diaries, letters, newspapers and tombstones in order to tell the stories of the behind-the-scenes heroes of the Ripley "line" of the Underground Railroad.
Katherine Ayres, a contemporary of Hagedorn’s, delves into the world of juvenilia, penning the story of the Underground Railroad for young people. Her novels, North by Night: A Story of the Underground Railroad and Stealing South: A Story of the Underground Railroad brings vividly to life the involvement of young people in the railroad.
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