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A Stop On The Underground Railroad

by Lynn Atherton-Bloxham

Thinking about the sacrifices made and terrors endured to end the tyranny of slavery is a good way to begin an effort to appreciate once again the inestimable value of individual freedom.

A Stop on the Underground Railroad

I lay in the old bed in the darkened attic room, thoroughly tired from my journey and a good day's work. The steeply sloped ceiling left just enough room for the bed, two rocking chairs and a few small pieces of furniture. As I drifted in that half twilight between drowsiness and sleep, I almost could hear the nervous rustlings of the people on the other side of the wall beside my bed. I felt their fear and knew they were far more exhausted than I was having trod on foot for miles across Missouri into Kansas.

Now huddled side by side in the cramped passageway around the perimeter of the small attic room, I was sure I heard sobs. Did they leave loved one's behind? Were they struggling to contain their fears? Now they were awaiting the signal that would tell them it was time to climb down the ladder into the tunnel leading, down, down, into darkness and ending, where? To another way station? To safety? Captured and sent back to slavery or on to Freedom. What was the signal. Ah, there it is; a light tapping on the door.

I heard my friend of many years call my name and it took a second to realize I was not in the pre-Civil War Era, but the twentieth century. The runaway slaves were long since departed. My friend came into her refurbished attic guest room with a tray of hot tea and homemade cookies. “Is this a fancy hotel” I joked. She smiled and said she thought we could catch up on all our family news as after my drive into Kansas and helping her load antiques and furniture into a moving van for an antique selling trip to California, tea and cookies for a bedtime snack was the least she could do. As usual when we were together, regardless of how long since we had seen each other, we quickly picked up where we had left off and began to recount all the news of our now grown children who had shared their childhood.

I remarked that I had been dozing and dreaming of the runaway slaves her earlier family members had hidden. She remarked that the attic seemed like a sacred museum to her and she too sometimes imagined she heard the slaves whispering. She began to tell me the many stories she had heard that had been passed down through the years.

When she had first inherited the house, I had visited and she had shown me the hidden door and the narrow, low passageway under the eaves which held the slaves while they awaited the next part of their journey. She remarked that when she remodeled the attic into a guest bedroom, several people could not imagine her leaving it intact, but I agreed it was too important a part of history to be destroyed.

During the pre-Civil War period, family stories recounted how her family kept the attic and its purpose a deep family secret. Her ancestor was a businessman and at the least he would have been ostracized by some and reported by others. Even after the war some townspeople were not at all sympathetic toward those who had participated in the Underground Railroad. Carefully passed down, however, had been a diary kept by an Aunt that recorded the slaves and their first names. My friend had hoped it was in the attic along with boxes of books, clothing, dishes and other family memorabilia. Disappointingly, no diary was found recording at least the names of those brave people who endured so much to attempt to gain freedom.

I have always been interested in the stories passed down to some of my friends of their ancestors who were slaves. It is good to record the struggles and accomplishments of fearless and tenacious people who helped change the course of history for the better. I think it is just as important to absorb the lessons their struggles can teach us. Instantly we think of their courage and and endurance. Though it was many years ago now, a former slave once told me stories of her childhood as a slave. What amazed me, even as a little child, was that they still found ways to enjoy life. Many, by what records we have, did not allow their enslavement to totally destroy their ability to capture each little joy in life and relish it fully.

We should also remember the wide range of brave people who were abolitionists and assisted, wrote and spoke out for slavery to be ended. They are sometimes forgotten in the fractured relationship that slavery caused and the hostility that still sometimes prevails. As very few white people were slave owners (and those are now deceased) and many objected to the practice of slavery, in fairness, not all should be blamed.

Above all, though, I think it is most important to remember the philosophical and ethical arguments that were honed by the abolitionists.

  • First: It was the insistence that the phrase “inalienable rights” was not simply verbiage but a principle upon which the philosophy of the human condition requiring freedom depends.
  • Second: The next step was the development of the concept of self ownership and how fundamental it is for a free people to thoroughly understand and incorporate into not just their laws, but their practices.
  • Third: If a person has the inalienable right to be a free person, and owns themselves as a sovereign individual, then it follows that a person has the sole ownership of his labor; physical or mental.
  • Fourth: If a person has the ownership of his own labor, then obviously a person owns the remuneration for their labor.
  • Fifth: By logic, the next step is that any products or property traded for one's efforts or for wages received for labor, are his and his alone, to do with as he sees fit as long as he accords the same respect to others.

This sequence of thinking did not originate with the abolitionists, but many of them understood some of these ideas and used them to make a case for the freeing of the slaves that Lincoln was not willing to make. Perhaps these are the people who really should have our respect and gratitude and whose names are not known or, if known, are only rarely remembered.

Perhaps all people, regardless of their heritage, should pay tribute to those who understood the cardinal principle of individualism. I would urge you to begin a quest to learn and understand the importance of individual rights and liberties, starting with those people who first explored the ideas of inalienable rights, sovereignty of the individual and self-ownership. We all would benefit if we explore these ideas to better apply them in our lives today.

Copyright © Lynn Atherton-Bloxham. Used with Permission.

About The Author

Lynn Atherton-Bloxham has been an enthusiastic pro-freedom activist for many years. As a former registered commodity and stock broker, her work has included conducting financial and economic evaluations for businesses. As a writer and political and social analyst, her work has appeared in many publications, starting with the Johnson County Missouri Conservative Newsletter in 1962 and continuing since with the Kansas City Business Journal, The Heartland Institute, the California Libertarian Journal, and the Oklahoma Libertarian Forum.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.