Underground Railroad Network to Freedom

Increase in Funding Helps Preserve the National Underground Railroad Network

After suffering a crippling deficit that threatened to erase the program, Congress increased the program's operating budget in fiscal year 2011, helping to preserve these diverse sites and heroic stories in American history.

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The Underground Railroad Network to Freedom (UGRR) is a network of individuals and grassroots organizations from across the country working together to protect, commemorate, and educate the public about the Underground Railroad.

In 1990, Congress authorized the National Park Service (NPS) to conduct a study of the Underground Railroad's routes and operations. Then, in 1998, the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom (UGRR) program was established to tell the story of the heroic efforts African Americans employed to escape slavery.

UGRR is one of the Park Service's best diversity-expanding programs. The program illustrates the Underground Railroad's cultural and historic importance for communities of color. It links hundreds of sites, structures, and facilities in 29 states and the Virgin Islands that celebrate and interpret the Underground Railroad.

The Underground Railroad was an informally organized covert network of antislavery activists, safe houses, and paths and roads through woods, river crossings, swamps, etc. Runaway slaves used the Underground Railroad to make their way from slave-owning southern states to northern states, Canada, Texas, Mexico, and the Caribbean, places where they could enjoy freedom and basic human rights. Escaped slaves were secretly transported to various safe houses until their freedom was secured.

The Underground Railroad began operating in the 1500s, when the first African captives were brought to America. In the decade before the Civil War, it is estimated that the Underground Railroad, which stretched for thousands of miles, passing through many states, including Kentucky, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, helped as many as 70,000 fugitive slaves escape and journey safely northward.

Much of the history of the Underground Railroad has been passed down orally for generations. Many of slaves were illiterate, and those who aided them in their flight destroyed their records because they feared exposure. Researchers have called on archeologists, social historians, and others to shed light on historic sites associated with the Underground Railroad and on the lives and communities of its participants.

The Underground Railroad is one of the most dramatic protests against slavery in the history of the United States. UGRR sites preserve that legacy and will share the compelling stories of the brave men and women connected to it with future generations.


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