Prior to the civil rights movement of the sixties, perhaps the most famous acts of civil disobedience were performed by the conductors of the "underground railroad," a network of abolitionists, safe houses, and clandestine routes which led escaped slaves from bondage in the south to freedom in northern states and Canada. The mother of the underground railroad movement was Harriet Tubman, a former Maryland slave whose daring (rowing canoes dozens of miles mid-winter, impersonating a domestic at work, etc.), as well as her unrelenting commitment to free others earned her the sobriquet "Moses." She conducted slaves to freedom from 1850 through the civil war and later served as scout for Union troops in South Carolina. After the war, she continued working for the benefit of African-Americans and women's rights. She died on March 10, 1913.
"Harriet Tubman: The Road To Freedom" by Catherine Clinton
Clinton, who has taught at Harvard, Brown and Wesleyan, uses her vast knowledge of the south to contextualize Tubman's remarkable life. Despite frequent seizures and constant headaches that she suffered after white slave owner threw a large rock at her, Tubman strategized with both Frederick Douglas and John Brown, then served as nurse in the Union Army (for which she never received a regular salary). With a $40,000 bounty on her head, Tubman often tried to avoid detection by dressing and acting as a very old woman. Still, she planned and essentially led several major operations, such as the freeing of slaves during the Union Army's Combahee Ferry Raid in South Carolina. In her later years, she became an ardent women's right's advocate. When a white woman asked Tubman if she thought females should have the right to vote, she replied, "I suffered enough to believe it."
"The Underground Railroad: Authentic Narratives and First-Hand Accounts" by William Still
A son of slaves himself, Still carefully recorded in his journals the stories of those he helped to freedom through the Underground Railroad. Among the incredible and heartrending stories, one escapee Still interviewed turned out to be his own brother. When the Civil War ended, he added newspaper articles, legal documents and letters to augment his narrative. It survives as one the few firsthand accounts of the period, and among only handful of records of slaves' thoughts and feelings about their owners.
"Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement" by Fergus Bordewich
Saints are often complicated people, Bordewich reveals. Workers on the Underground Railroad included religious zealots, political radicals and even racists. Bordewich portrays the complexity and contradictions of many individuals and groups such as the slave-holding Native Americans and the abolitionists who were also segregationists. The author does not neglect well-known figures such as Tubman, but also details the lives of the lesser known, such David Ruggles who opened the first African-American bookstore in the United States.
"Hidden In Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and The Underground Railroad" by Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard
Sewn into slaves' quilts -- right under the noses of their masters -- was the secret code of the Underground Railroad. Knot and stitch patterns woven among images of log cabins and wagon wheels could be read like maps. They aided hundreds, if not thousands, of slaves in their escape to freedom. Remarkably, the authors found living Americans, such as quilt-maker Ozella McDaniels, who could still read these thread and fabric hieroglyphics. For generations, the language and the skill had been passed down mother to daughter, and Tobin and Dobard's combination history and dictionary makes quilt reading accessible to all.