Gateway to Freedom by Eric Foner
The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

82%

6 Critic Reviews

Most important, in telling this inspiring story, Foner identifies a host of heroes who deserve to be remembered.
-Star Tribune

Synopsis

The dramatic story of fugitive slaves and the antislavery activists who defied the law to help them reach freedom.


More than any other scholar, Eric Foner has influenced our understanding of America's history. Now, making brilliant use of extraordinary evidence, the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian once again reconfigures the national saga of American slavery and freedom.


A deeply entrenched institution, slavery lived on legally and commercially even in the northern states that had abolished it after the American Revolution. Slaves could be found in the streets of New York well after abolition, traveling with owners doing business with the city's major banks, merchants, and manufacturers. New York was also home to the North’s largest free black community, making it a magnet for fugitive slaves seeking refuge. Slave catchers and gangs of kidnappers roamed the city, seizing free blacks, often children, and sending them south to slavery.


To protect fugitives and fight kidnappings, the city's free blacks worked with white abolitionists to organize the New York Vigilance Committee in 1835. In the 1840s vigilance committees proliferated throughout the North and began collaborating to dispatch fugitive slaves from the upper South, Washington, and Baltimore, through Philadelphia and New York, to Albany, Syracuse, and Canada. These networks of antislavery resistance, centered on New York City, became known as the underground railroad. Forced to operate in secrecy by hostile laws, courts, and politicians, the city’s underground-railroad agents helped more than 3,000 fugitive slaves reach freedom between 1830 and 1860. Until now, their stories have remained largely unknown, their significance little understood.


Building on fresh evidence—including a detailed record of slave escapes secretly kept by Sydney Howard Gay, one of the key organizers in New York—Foner elevates the underground railroad from folklore to sweeping history. The story is inspiring—full of memorable characters making their first appearance on the historical stage—and significant—the controversy over fugitive slaves inflamed the sectional crisis of the 1850s. It eventually took a civil war to destroy American slavery, but here at last is the story of the courageous effort to fight slavery by "practical abolition," person by person, family by family.

 

About Eric Foner

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Eric Foner is the preeminent historian of his generation, highly respected by historians of every stripe-whether they specialize in political history or social history. His books have won the top awards in the profession, and he has been president of both major history organizations: the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians. He has worked on every detail of Give Me Liberty!, which displays all of his trademark strengths as a scholar, teacher, and writer. A specialist on the Civil War/Reconstruction period, he regularly teaches the nineteenth-century survey at Columbia University, where he is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History. In 2011, Foner's The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery won the Pulitzer Prize in History, the Bancroft Prize, and the Lincoln Prize. Author Image 1
 
Published January 19, 2015 by W. W. Norton & Company. 320 pages
Genres: History, War, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Gateway to Freedom
All: 6 | Positive: 6 | Negative: 0

Kirkus

Good
on Oct 20 2014

New sources reveal the perilous journeys of fugitive slaves...Foner brings to life fraught decades of contention, brutality and amazing acts of moral courage.

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Publishers Weekly

Good
on Apr 25 2015

...Pulitzer Prize–winner Foner...makes expert use of an unusual primary source to illuminate the workings of this secret system...The Underground Railroad is much mythologized but not widely understood; Foner’s gripping account of slaves’ struggles to free themselves reveals the immense risks they, and their sympathizers, took to escape bondage.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Kevin Baker on Jan 28 2015

He makes vivid the incredible risks and hardships so many slaves were willing to endure for their freedom, and how much it meant to them.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Glenn C Altschuler on Feb 21 2015

Most important, in telling this inspiring story, Foner identifies a host of heroes who deserve to be remembered.

Read Full Review of Gateway to Freedom: The Hidde... | See more reviews from Star Tribune

LA Times

Good
Reviewed by Wendy Smith on Jan 08 2015

Intellectually probing and emotionally resonant, "Gateway to Freedom" reminds us that history can be as stirring as the most gripping fiction.

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Forbes

Above average
Reviewed by Tim Reuter on Apr 13 2015

Foner understandably spends plenty of time chronicling such stories of escape. However, Gateway to Freedom is about more than individual flights from bondage.

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Reader Rating for Gateway to Freedom
71%

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