WSW: The "Geography of Resistance" and the Underground Railroad

Oct 15, 2015

Underground Railroad Sculpture in Battle Creek
Credit Battle Creek Visitors and Convention Bureau/Wikimedia Commons

Historian and Archeologist Cheryl LaRoche says she likes to look into legends and lore, stories that have been refuted about slavery and the Underground Railroad. 


LaRoche says she assumes there is a kernel of truth in those stories. She says many people and families retain small parts of a larger story in family history. She says once you have a name of someone involved in the Underground Railroad, you can begin weaving together a new narrative.

LaRoche, who teachers in the American Studies Department at the University of Maryland will speak at Western Michigan University on Tuesday October 20th. Her address is called The Geography of Resistance: Historic African American Communities and the Underground Railroad. LaRoche explains that she helped develop the Geography of Resistance by walking and researching African-American sites across the country. People were located in places where the land was undesirable, near waterways. There was usually an African-American church nearby.

The main players in the Underground Railroad were vigilance committees, the anti-slavery committees and churches. LaRoche says the focus changes depending on the part of the country. Michigan served as a conduit for people going to Canada. LaRoche says the state’s story varies depending on the area of Michigan you're talking about.

Asked about what’s next in research about the Underground Railroad, LaRoche says further exploring the experience of women and the interconnections of various abolitionists. She says there is a lot of work to do to tell the full story of the Underground Railroad. LaRoche says technology has made it easier to access records. But she says it’s still important for her to physically visit sites related to the Underground Railroad.

Image from Wikimedia Commons