This is a wonderful story about a little-known Black man born into freedom in 1821 who grew up determined to help enslaved blacks escape to the North.
William’s parents were originally enslaved in Maryland. His father purchased his freedom and went North. His mother escaped along with their two girls, leaving their two boys behind. They started a new life in New Jersey, eventually having fifteen children. The youngest was William. When William was eight, he helped an escaped slave get to safety; William knew every corner of the woods. The author writes, “The experience defined the rest of his life.”
Growing up, he got a job in Philadelphia, at the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, eventually working his way up to manager. William sought out travelers on the “Underground Railroad” – i.e., escaped slaves from the South, and welcomed them into his home, which became a “station” on the Underground Railroad. One evening a “passenger” arrived at his office – an elderly man – and it turned out to be his long-lost older brother Peter.
The author recounts:
“Peter’s story was sad. Tragic. Miraculous. And extraordinary. And Peter’s story restored his family.”
William wondered, could other people’s stories help reunite families torn apart by slavery? He started to record every detail escaped slaves could provide to him, and in 1872 published The Underground Rail Road, a collection of those stories from his journals. (Photographs of pages from Still’s journal are shown on the front endpapers, with transcriptions of them featured on the back endpapers.) Tate writes:
“William Still’s records, and the stories he preserved, reunited families torn apart by slavery.”
Back matter includes a timeline, an author’s note about the book’s inspiration, and a bibliography.
The author, also a noted illustrator, used his warm illustrations and variations in font to help tell the story.
Evaluation: This inspiring history for ages 6 and up shows how one person, starting in the worst of circumstances, can work hard and make a difference. I also love that he brings much-needed attention to other African Americans besides the names everyone knows, like Harriet Tubman, who worked so hard to help slaves gain their freedom.
Published by Peachtree Publishing Company, 2020