Saturday, August 5, 2023

Booknotes: Onward to Chicago

New Arrival:

Onward to Chicago: Freedom Seekers and the Underground Railroad in Northeastern Illinois by Larry A. McClellan (SIU Press, 2023).

From the description: "Decades before the Civil War, Illinois’s status as a free state beckoned enslaved people, particularly those in Kentucky and Missouri, to cross porous river borders and travel toward new lives." According to Larry McClellan, author of Onward to Chicago: Freedom Seekers and the Underground Railroad in Northeastern Illinois, "traditional histories of the Underground Railroad in Illinois start in 1839, and focus largely on the romanticized tales of white men." His new study "reframes the story, not only introducing readers to earlier freedom seekers, but also illustrating that those who bravely aided them were Black and white, men and women. McClellan features dozens of individuals who made dangerous journeys to reach freedom as well as residents in Chicago and across northeastern Illinois who made a deliberate choice to break the law to help."

The region's modernized transportation networks also played an important role in the process. More from the description: McClellan's Onward to Chicago "charts the evolution of the northeastern Illinois freedom network and shows how, despite its small Black community, Chicago emerged as a point of refuge. The 1848 completion of the I & M Canal and later the Chicago to Detroit train system created more opportunities for Black men, women, and children to escape slavery."

Numerous individual experiences and "significant biracial collaboration" are major parts of McClellan's narrative, as the book "includes specific freedom seeker journey stories and introduces Black and white activists who provided aid in a range of communities along particular routes." "Through deep research into local sources, McClellan presents the engrossing, entwined journeys of freedom seekers and the activists in Chicagoland who supported them."

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