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True Facts on ‘The Underground Railroad’

The 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction is now available on a screen near you. We know you will be now ecstatic that Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” has been made into an Amazon Prime Video limited series. The novel’s imaginative perspective on the antebellum American South is what makes it so intriguing, but Whitehead’s magical realism may make some readers and the viewers wonder how much of The Undead is true (based on a real story).

The Underground Railroad is all about Cora, a lady born into slavery on a Georgia plantation who embarks on an epic journey across the United States in quest of her freedom as she travels from Georgia through South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana, and beyond. She was accompanied by a number of compatriots, including Lovey, Caesar, and Royal. There was only one person with her, the slave catcher Ridgeway, who followed her every step of the way.

The real-life Underground Railroad was a network of white and BIPOC abolitionists who tried to smuggle runaways from Southern plantations to free states, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Canada. The railroad conductors would hide Black fugitives at “stations” like houses, churches, and businesses and move them to the next station when time and safety permitted.

London’s Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first subway system, opened its doors in 1863. In the same year, the United States Underground Railroad stopped operating in secret and began functioning as part of the Union war effort. The real-life Underground Railroad is turned into a physical subway system in Whitehead’s novel, with routes connecting the southernmost U.S. states to Canada.

The Underground Railroad’s eponymous railway story runs in secret, away from the prying eyes of slave hunters, just like the real abolitionist network. Whitehead’s Railroad is dangerous for Cora and her pals as the real-life routes were for enslaved individuals and those who aided their escape for its conductors and passengers.

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