Monday, July 26, 2010

George Boxley, The Underground Railroad and the Discussion of Race

There have been a lot of good articles lately in the dealing with the Underground Railroad. Recently, Timbuctoo was recovered in New Jersey by Temple U. and is currently under extensive survey. It’s a great find because of what Timbuctoo was, and what it came to be. As more is released about Timbuctoo the more we’ll learn about early free black communities.

The Underground Railroad is no less significant as a moment in history. The Whites who ran the Railroad abhorred slavery, many viewed Blacks and Whites as equal long before there was ever an equal rights movement. These people risked their own lives, their families, their properties, and broke laws left and right in order to free slaves.

The Railroad itself is both real and mythical today, you could probably find thousands of “stops” and many have been verified, some have not. Whether or not a stop is real or not isn’t an issue, it’s both amazing and hearting that people want their properties to be part of the Railroad. The ultimate goal of the Railroad was to free those who were enslaved and guide them to places where they could live free and un-harassed.

George Boxley fit into all of this because he was one of the first abolitionists. His views on equality caused him constant strife in his life, climaxing when he personally guided two slaves to freedom. His action were found out and after escaping prison the day before his execution, he escaped Virginia by way of the very Underground Railroad he’d used earlier to save the now former slaves.

George Boxley’s life reads like an action movie. After escaping he is perused by his lifelong rival all the way to Boston, helped along the way by old war buddies and new friends made by saving their lives. When he finally reunites with his family he is still perused across the Midwest till finally he is found by a bounty hunter, who falls ill and is revived by Boxley. In his gratitude for being saved, the Hunter tells Boxley that he’ll return and tell all that George Boxley is dead and not to look for him anymore.

While on the run Boxley still found time to write several pamphlets against slavery, free a few slaves, and educate the youth of a still young nation.

In his twilight years Boxley did some very strange things, and apparently he and his wife parted ways. Still he’d made an impact on the communities he’d lived in and possibly continued his crusade for equality with his own stop along the Railroad.

So what does the current discoveries and research into the Underground Railroad have to do with Racial Discourse today? Quite a bit.

Often archaeology finds things that allow for difficult discussions to start, especially in Urban and Historic archaeology. Evidence is evidence, and when what the archaeologist find contradicts the current world view, this opens up a chance to talk. The work with the Underground Railroad is no different.

The Railroad shows us that even at the earliest times of our country Whites and Blacks struggled and fought together for a common goal that was seen to better all of us. Southern and Northern Whites risked life and limb to free slaves and keep them safe, and in turn those Blacks returned to help free more. In situations like Boxley, Blacks worked to keep their White partners safe.

The Underground Railroad is a triumph in American History. Perhaps we’ll never know the true routes or identify all the stops, but we will continue to look because it’s important to keep the Railroad in the minds of our people. It shows that when push comes to shove, we can and do see each other as equals. When we need to rely on each other the most, we can. It shows that when all men are not treated equal, we will rise up as a nation and find ways to make it so.

Keeping this in mind, is there really a racial issue we can’t work though?

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