Cover image for Front line of freedom : African Americans and the forging of the Underground Railroad in the Ohio Valley
Front line of freedom : African Americans and the forging of the Underground Railroad in the Ohio Valley
Griffler, Keith P.
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Publication Information:
Lexington : University Press of Kentucky, [2004]

Physical Description:
xvi, 169 pages : illustrations, map ; 24 cm.
River of slavery, river of freedom -- No promised land -- Home over Jordan -- Band of angels -- Egypt's border -- Prelude to exodus.
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Table of contents
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E450 .G82 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The Underground Railroad, an often misunderstood antebellum institution, has been viewed as a simple combination of mainly white "conductors" and black "passengers." Keith P. Griffler takes a new, battlefield-level view of the war against American slavery as he reevaluates one of its front lines: the Ohio River, the longest commercial dividing line between slavery and freedom. In shifting the focus from the much discussed white-led "stations" to the primarily black-led frontline struggle along the Ohio, Griffler reveals for the first time the crucial importance of the freedom movement in the river's port cities and towns. Front Line of Freedom fully examines America's first successful interracial freedom movement, which proved to be as much a struggle to transform the states north of the Ohio as those to its south. In a climate of racial proscription, mob violence, and white hostility, the efforts of Ohio Valley African Americans to establish and maintain communities became inextricably linked to the steady stream of fugitives crossing the region. As Griffler traces the efforts of African Americans to free themselves, Griffler provides a window into the process by which this clandestine network took shape and grew into a powerful force in antebellum America.

Author Notes

Keith P. Giffler is assistant professor of African American history at the University of Cincinnati.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

An entry in the Ohio River Valley series, this innovative examination of the Underground Railroad explores the often neglected and overlooked roles African Americans played in this significant chapter in American history. Though many conventional histories give the impression that white abolitionists were the risk-taking conductors while escaped slaves were merely passive passengers on the Underground Railroad, the truth is that this was one of the first truly interracial enterprises, conceived and executed by daring and committed members of both races. Seeking to set the historical record straight by demonstrating that African Americans were central to the development and operation of the Underground Railroad, Griffler introduces a variety of African American voices and viewpoints gleaned from letters, reminiscences, and oral histories. By cross-checking these primary sources against contemporary scholarship, he is able to present a balanced overview of one of the first collaborative efforts between the races in America. An important contribution to the history of the Ohio River Valley and the sociology of the African American experience. --Margaret Flanagan Copyright 2004 Booklist

Choice Review

Griffler (Univ. of Cincinnati) has made an important scholarly contribution to the historiography of the Underground Railroad by focusing on the "front line" of this emancipation network--the African Americans who led so many bonds people across the Ohio River. Past studies treated the fugitives and the "front line" as mere objects of benevolent white abolitionists who served as conductors once the fugitives made it to free soils. A second, conceptual contribution is the metaphor and reality of the Ohio River, which separated slave territory from free territory but also provided the physical conduit by which the free and slave state economies were inextricably linked during the antebellum period. Additionally, the author shows that federal law and substantial northern opinion opposed the operation of the Underground Railroad, even while fugitives and their white and black allies kept it operational. Griffler illustrates convincingly that in addition to its role in liberating human beings from bondage, Ohio Valley abolitionists--African American and white--played a vital role in redirecting northern abolition away from its early moral suasion and toward political activity and direct action. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. E. R. Crowther Adams State College

Table of Contents

Rita Kohn
List of Illustrationsp. viii
Series Forewordp. ix
Prefacep. xi
1. River of Slavery, River of Freedomp. 1
2. No Promised Landp. 12
3. Home Over Jordanp. 30
4. Band of Angelsp. 58
5. Egypt's Borderp. 81
6. Prelude to Exodusp. 105
Notesp. 131
Bibliographyp. 151
Indexp. 164