I would start out by asking how life is there back on the plantation, but I know it could not possibly be better than what it was like before I chose to escape. I could not see myself being bound to anyone and forced to work any longer. So you must understand my desire to break free. You and I have very different views on that subject. You think that being born a slave has simply been God’s calling for you, whereas I dp not. I’m 21 and there’s no way I’m going to waste my life on a plantation as a slave. So I hope you understand my desire to leave, that it had nothing to do with you, and I want you to know that I am well.
It’s late afternoon right now, and I am sitting on an empty crate in the station. The conductor says we will be leaving at sundown. Before you think I am traveling on one of those new steam engine trains to my freedom, let me explain. Our operation has been named the Underground Railroad. The operation has code names to make it easier to communicate. I, as well as the other escapees, are known as “passengers”. Our guides, the more experienced, are known as “conductors”. I never knew there were so many people who are sympathetic toward our operation, but that’s just one thing I have learned on my journey.
The white families open their doors to their homes, and they feed us as well as provide us shelter overnight. These houses are called “stations” (as I had mentioned earlier). My clothes were tattered and worn and I was provided new ones. Obviously, we need to stay out of the eyes of those who would like nothing better than to see us caught so this is one way we avoid obvious detection from bounty hunters. “Stockholders” they are called – the ones who provide us with financial needs. Bless these people! With as much as I have explained to you, things are not all rosy as they appear.
At any given moment we may be caught or the ones who provide shelter for us, discovered. We must remain out of sight for as long as possible. This trip has been an eye opener for me. Life is so much different here than in Alabama. Emily, I wish you could be here with me right now. There are so many things I wish I could tell you that I just can not explain in writing. Truth is, I’m scared, more scared than I’ve ever been in my life. Lord knows what might happen to me if I were to be caught. Life should just not be lived like this this. Life should not be lived out in fear. It’s maddening!
I honestly think God made negros stronger because I don’t think any white man could endure what we must go through daily. I was once told back on the plantation that the air I breathe is not mine to have unless I work for it. I do not share in the same belief as those white folk. I believe all men and women of any color should be considered the same. Do we not all share the same earth? Do we not all need food, water, and shelter to survive? We are all the same in that regard. I believe though that the Underground Railroad has changed my opinion about work. I used to work on the plantation because I had no other choice.
It was either work and live or don’t work and die. No matter where you are, whether free or slave, this will always be the case I think. Nothing in life is free, but I believe we should all have choices. If I want to work in a factory, I should be able to. If I want to work on a farm, I should have that option. I don’t want to have someone telling me what I have to do. The Underground has taught me many things and has opened my eyes to the world of possibilities that I can make for myself. In the future, I don’t see myself as a black woman bound by what I have to do but free by what I choose to do. Shouldn’t that be the case for all of us?
Sometimes I wonder why I put myself through all this danger, but then I think back onto the days back on the plantation. I knew that if I had stayed, I would be worked to my death. The Underground Railroad is dangerous no doubt but in all reality, I do what I do now only to survive. Atleast I am working towards something I have to gain rather than not gain anything at all. On the plantation, my life was going nowhere. Since I’ve been in the Undergound, I’ve seen visions. Visions of my life in the near future. I see myself owning my own farm, working my own land, and paying those people who want to work for me, not the other way around.
Anyway, enough of my rant and raving. You’ve heard it all before, I know. And even though I talk about how what I chose to do is better than living in Alabama, it’s still my opinion, and I respect your’s for staying. Nevertheless, I miss you Emily, you’re the only real family I have left, and it seems like I’ve lost you too. I can remember a time when you, me, and big bro Rosco were playing in the Master’s cellar. Ooo! Did we get in trouble that day, but oh it was fun! Big Bro always did have a knack for getting into some sort of trouble. Too bad he was sold off to some place in Louisiana, he was the only one who could really make me laugh.
After Mama Dean and Pa passed on, there was no real reason for me to stick around to work for those nasty white men. I didn’t want to leave you, but I was dying there. I suppose I can always think back to the happier days when we were younger. And maybe one day soon, we will have those happy days again when the Underground Railroad is no longer needed. Where blacks and whites can get along together, and blacks don’t need to escape from where they grew up but instead, establish roots. There won’t be any need to split up families because we will all be free.
I know, I know, I could just hear you now, “Whites won’t ever let us be free so long as they live. ” You were always the dramatic realist in the family. I, on the other hand, have always been the dreamer. But if you could only see what I have seen, maybe even you would change your mind. There is a world out there beyond Alabama. A world that dosen’t keep slaves, where every man and woman are free to do as they wish. I can’t readily see it, but I know it’s out there. The Underground is merely the transportation I take to get there. Other than that, I must admit that the way I live today is much different than in Alabama.
I’ve learned not to take things for granted because everything I have recieved up to this day has been a gift. Of all the things I think I could possibly want for myself is a good pair of shoes. I don’t think I’ve ever walked so much in my life than what I’ve done on the Railroad! Fortunately, the stockholders generous contributions allowed for me to get some good shoes. Although breaking them in properly was a chore in itself. I tried not to slow our conductor down as much as possible, but now I suppose I can make up for lost time now their good and worn.
Back in Alabama, I can only remember two or three times in my life where I had to run. I’ve done more than quadrupled that in the time I’ve escaped. It’s difficult to cut through fields without causing detection at night. So, the faster we can get through, the less likely we are to get caught. I like that theory because it has seemed to work just fine for me thus far. The food, I must admit, is much different than Alabama’s. With all the different stations we’ve stopped at, I’ve experienced so many different tastes that I can’t even begin to explain.
I wish you could be here Emily just to taste all the different kinds of grub. Speaking of taste, I suppose I’ve always had a taste for adventure, which is why I am am enjoying this so much. Not so much though to get me caught, but enough to keep everything exciting. To me, this is an adventure! My life, well-being, at any moment, can be taken away, but to tell you the truth, it’s worth it. I can see you lecturing me in my mind about how dangerous the Underground is and how many risks I’m taking. But to tell you the truth, I’d rather take the risks to live free than take no risks at all.
Having to take every step with caution is only temporary, and I just have to remain focused. Sometimes, I don’t know how I do it day in and day out, or what gives me the energy and commitment? I know I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without God. I think that life here on the underground has changed me for the better. I don’t see life as something I have to do, but as something I get to do. A lot of other passengers call me crazy because of all the dangers I’m putting myself through. I don’t know what their talking about since they are right here next to me taking every step I have to take.
I guess they only see what’s in front of them though whereas I see my future. Emily, the sun has just gone down below the horizon and the conductor just told us we need to be ready to leave in 10 minutes. I have some various items to take care of before we continue on. I wish I could tell you where I am, but I’m afraid of what might happen if this letter landed in the wrong hands. Just know that I am so close that I can taste freedom! I love you with all my heart, and I keep you in my prayers daily just as I know you keep me. God Bless.