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Underground Railroad: The William Still Story

Airs Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

William Still, Father of the Underground Railroad.

Credit: Courtesy of Swarthmore College

Above: William Still, Father of the Underground Railroad.

"Underground Railroad: The William Still Story" tells the dramatic story of William Still, one of the most important yet largely unheralded individuals of the Underground Railroad.

William Still Quotes

"The heroism and desperate struggle that many of our people had to endure should be kept green in the memory of this and coming generations."

"It was my good fortune to lend a helping hand to the weary travelers flying from the land of bondage."

Still was determined to get as many runaways as he could to "Freedom’s Land,” smuggling them across the U.S. border to Canada. Bounty hunters could legally abduct former slaves living in the so-called free northern states, but under the protection of the British, Canada provided sanctuary for fugitive slaves.

William Still was a humble Philadelphia clerk who risked his life shepherding runaway slaves to freedom in the tumultuous years leading up to America’s Civil War.

Still was the director of a complex network of abolitionists, sympathizers and safe houses that stretched from Philadelphia to what is now Southern Ontario. In his fourteen years in the service of the Underground Railroad, he helped nearly eight hundred former slaves to escape.

Still kept meticulous records of the many escapes slaves who passed through the Philadelphia "station." After the Civil War, Still published the secret notes he’d kept in diaries during those years.

And to this day, his book contains some of the best evidence we have of the workings of the Underground Railroad, detailing the freedom seekers who used it, including where they came from, how they escaped and the families they left behind.

"Underground Railroad: The William Still Story" premiered Feb. 6, 2012. Visit to purchase the DVD.

Underground Railroad: The William Still Story Trailer

Extraordinary people risked their lives to help fugitive slaves escape via the clandestine Underground Railroad. Among them was William Still of Philadelphia, a free black man who accepted delivery of transported crates containing human “cargo.” This documentary reveals some of the dramatic, lesser-known stories behind this humanitarian enterprise, and explores key Canadian connections, including the surprising fate of former slaves who crossed the border to “Freedom’s Land.”

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