Fact or Fiction? Lies, Mysteries and Untruths on the Underground Railroad
“Fakelore” • Why are there so many legends surrounding the Underground Railroad? • Aging informants • Passage of time • Ancestral pride • Community pride • Repetition • Distortion, embellishment and exaggeration
Say What?! One person’s idea of the use or meaning of a primary source doesn’t make it fact! You need to back up your claim with multiple sources!
Primary Source Activity • Each group will get one primary source and a corresponding description • How would you determine if the description is fact or fiction? • We care about the PROCESS • What other types of primary sources would you try to find to support or refute the claim? Why those? • Present your ideas to the group
Example This blue Atlas canning jar was manufactured between 1930 and 1960. It was manufactured by the Hazel-Atlas Glass Corporation, which was established after the merger of the Hazel Company, the Atlas Glass Company, Republic Glass and the Wheeling Metal Company in 1902. Fact! • Catalogs • Glass, rubber and metal technology • Newspapers • Business records • Anniversary brochures
Things to keep in Mind • Technology • When did the technology exist to create this? • Chronology • Does the date match up with the claim? • Bias • Did/does the creator belong to an organization that would be pro or con the subject the person is writing about? • What do they have to gain? • Common sense • Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense!
Fact or Fiction? This slave coin, minted in 1838, was used as “payment” on the Underground Railroad. A slave would give this coin to a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and if the conductor accepted the coin it meant the slave could enter their home and take shelter for the night. FICTION!
FACT! • The image of the female slave in chains surrounded by this motto was used by female antislavery societies in printed pamphlets, on letterhead and on needlework sold at antislavery fairs. The emblem served as a visual reminder of the humanity of the slave. • This coin, made of copper, may have been exchanged among members of antislavery groups much the same way as we might use political buttons today.
Fact or Fiction? Fact?? These shackles were used to bind slaves and keep them from escaping. The shackles were attached to the slaves’ legs.
FACT! • These shackles may have been used for slaves, but could also have been used for prisoners. • The exact use is currently unknown • How would you try to find out??
Fact or Fiction? This house in Dayton, Ohio, was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Fugitive slaves would enter through a door in the back of the house and hide in the attic. FICTION!
FACT! • This photograph shows the final home of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar at 219 Paul Laurence Dunbar Street in Dayton, Ohio, • The home was built around 1887 and is an example of Queen Anne style, which was popular in the United States from 1880 to 1910.
Fact or Fiction? This photograph shows a group of abolitionists. These twenty men were arrested for attempting to free an alleged slave from his captors. Fact!
Fact or Fiction? Quilts contained codes to help slaves on their journey. This quilt is done in the log cabin pattern. Hung on a clothesline or across the front porch, this pattern told slaves that this was a safe house or that they needed to take shelter. FICTION!
FACT! • Even among Code proponents, the patterns’ meanings, how the quilts were used, and who used them is a matter of debate. Some proponents claim the Code as part of their family oral history, but none can point to an ancestor who used it to escape to the North or even participated in the Underground Railroad. • First-hand accounts of fugitive slaves and Underground Railroad participants detail many ways of conveying messages but never mention using quilts, and the details of the Code are incompatible with documented evidence of the Underground Railroad, slave living conditions, quilt making, and African culture. • The Code materialized in the 1980s during the post-Bicentennial revival of folk art and the popularization of women’s history studies.
Fact or Fiction? Fact?? This map shows the Underground Railroad routes through Ohio that fugitive slaves traveled.
FACT! • This map was created by Wilbur Siebert and used in his book The Mysteries of the Underground Railroad in Ohio, published in 1951, and based on research he collected from individuals and communities claiming they had URR sites. • He strung together his research to create the trails connecting various cities.
Fact or Fiction? FICTION! This poster is advertising a reward for finding a lost woman named Emily. She has gone missing and her family is looking for her.
FACT! • This broadside is announcing a reward for the apprehension and return of a runaway slave named Emily who belonged to Thomas H. Williams from near Lewisburg, Mason County, Kentucky.
Fact or Fiction? Fact! This photograph shows the John Rankin house. Rankin was a Presbyterian minister and educator who devoted much of his life to the antislavery movement. His house has several secret rooms in which fugitive slaves were hidden.
Wrap-Up • If you had a primary source you wanted to validate, where would you start? • What would be the best primary source to validate other primary sources? • What would be the best secondary source to validate a primary source?