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Cornell University

Commentary from Gerard Aching

Transcript

Gerard Aching speaks about the forced migration along the U.S. Underground Railroad in the 1800s—and what it can teach us today.

My research focuses on the forced migration that was the Underground Railroad and what happened along the routes that traversed central and western New York and that delivered freedom seekers north to Canada—how I came to viewing the forced migrations along the Underground Railroad as a measurement of the capacity of our institutions to uphold our values.

The Underground Railroad was itself a manifestation of civil disobedience by individuals ranging from those in high political office to ordinary citizens. Many were abolitionists, as we know, but not all. Many like the Quakers became activists because of their religious beliefs and convictions. And then there were women who became abolitionists and subsequently rallied for their own rights and the women's suffrage movement.

That allows me to visualize the relationships between the forced migration of freedom seekers and their many local and regional civic and religious organizations that supported them. My focus has been the nineteenth century and looking at the Underground Railroad. It's also important to recognize that some of the same routes are currently being used by refugees who want to pass through our area on their road to Canada.