The dream of freedom for slaves meant the freedom to be their own masters responsible for themselves and no more whips and chains. Some slaves made that dream a reality when they got on board the Underground Railroad. Savannah tour guide Ogbanna explains the Underground Railroad to students as he asks them to think differently when they hear the words train, tracks, and station. For escaping slaves, train could mean their own two feet, tracks could be a swamp, and a station could be the First African Baptist Church in Savannah. Established in 1773, the church is considered the oldest black church in America. Proving its status as an Underground Railroad station, its basement floorboards show patterns of holes drilled in them. These were ventilation holes for runaways hiding underneath. Ogbanna tells how slaves got on board the railroad by slipping into the woods bordering the fields where they worked. Murry Dorty of the Coastal Heritage Society explains how songs had hidden meanings to help and inspire runaways. Secret codes, passwords, and the use of signal lights all helped escaping slaves elude their captors. While most slaves traveled north to Canada, author Michael Thurmond describes how some fled south using the Okefenokee Swamp as a hiding place. These slaves intermarried with the Seminole Indians and some became tribal chiefs. No matter how or where they escaped it took great courage, but with freedom as the reward for success, it was worth all the risks.
Teacher tip: The songs Steal Away and Wade in the Water are heard in the video. Play a full version of these songs or locate copies of the lyrics to find the clues that could help runaway slaves.