Importance of the Underground Railroad to American History

Why Teach About the Underground Railroad?




The Underground Railroad occurred during one of the most challenging eras in the history of the United States of America.  It is presented as a dramatic event involving freedom seekers migrating toward the northern United States into Canada.  While the experiences of both freedom seekers and members of the Underground Railroad are noted – the impact of the Underground Railroad beyond the Emancipation Proclamation are seldom presented. 


Dr. Genna Rae McNeil: sourceThere are several reasons why the Underground Railroad was important and should be studied.


It was one of the most multicultural collaborative events and protests in United States history as ordinary men and women of many races, religions, and beliefs worked together for social justice.


It is a demonstration of how African Americans could organize on their own – dispelling the myth that African  Americans did not resist enslavement.


It provided an opportunity for sympathetic Americans to assist in the abolition of slavery.

It demonstrates the creativity and innovation of communication systems and planned escapes.


Listen to Dr. Genna Rae McNeil discuss the importance of the Underground Railroad (source: Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History/documentaries).


One question your students may ask is,  “Why do we need to study the Underground Railroad today? What does it have to do with anything today?”  To assist you in answering this question, you will travel through history and investigate how various historical events are related to the Underground Railroad.




Historical Events

(see resources below)


  • Cuba, Gullah Islands, Bahamas and Florida
  • People who contributed: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass
  • Michigan event:  Cassopolis
  • Abolitionist Movement
  • Women’s Rights Movement
  • Modern Slavery


Fort Mose' (mo-say)




"Before I came to this class I thought I knew all the basics of this difficult time in our history.  We all know about the slaves and people like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas. 


What I didn’t know was that there was so much more to the Underground Railroad than the limited information that I had learned."



Student Reflection, Summer 2013











Cassopolis, Michigan

. .."I was surprised to find how important Michigan and the Detroit area were in the Underground Railroad, ... not even knowing Battle Creek had a stop to help slaves escape to Canada."



Student Reflection, Summer 2013






Women's Rights





Being able to see the Underground Railroad though a more holistic lens leads to a better understanding of not only why this event is so historically significant but also how it continues to be significant in modern times.  Instead of teaching historical events in isolation, you will be able to show the relationships of these events and provide a comprehensive view of the Underground Railroad and the evolution of the Abolitionist Movement.


Next, you will discover how to develop high Quality Lesson Plans using a multicultural approach.


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