Many of us believe in the Underground Railroad as a secretive network that only a few knew about. Indeed, the network was referred to in a hushed tone, but everyone who needed to know about it knew about it. After attending the Southwest Michigan Underground Railroad Tour, led by FIRE Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative (Kalamazoo, MI) this past Sunday, I learned that these abolitionists and conductors were hardcore networkers. They joined forces, providing room and board, food, clothes, and safe locations for people in need, and they rallied Michiganders all throughout the state to attend anti-slavery
meetings and to strengthen the abolitionist movement.
I also learned that conductors solicited their houses as safe place for enslaved African Americans to seek refuge. This seemed peculiar, because I had assumed that the Underground Railroad was kept “quiet”, for fear of being caught and penalized under the law, but this was not the case. Although conductors were smart about where they posted their signs and whom they talked with, they were not afraid to be vocal and express their beliefs. Their comfort came from solidarity; they joined arms with neighbors, friends and colleagues to fight against slavery and the law. If at times the location was compromised, the townspeople came together and physically did not permit the slave catchers or law authorities to enter their village. During many occasions, they organized and won by demonstrating the power of numbers.
Solidarity is an organizing technique that has yet to founder. Many social movements, like that of the Underground Railroad, have used the power of human-connectedness and community to see their interests achieved and carried on. It may be difficult at first to establish the idea of solidarity or to install trust and faith in strangers, but this is all part of the process. If we are to be strong and united, we need to begin thinking about the best interest for not just ourselves, but for the rest of our brothers and sisters.