Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Love Stories from the Underground Railroad

by Betty DeRamus

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-7434-8263-8
Publisher: Atria

Thirteen heart-gladdening tales of love on the run in the time of slavery, assembled by award-winning journalist De Ramus.

Not that they all ended happily; many of the lovers will die in these pages. But this impressive debut collection awes us with its stories of slave-era couples, many black, some interracial, who defied mobs and hounds and bounty hunters and taboos to maintain their relationships. De Ramus scoured Civil War, historical society, and court records, unpublished memoirs, and the remembrances of runaway slave couples to gather these stories of abiding affection, and it is not hard to understand why they have endured. These men and women possess a sinewy, breathtaking faith in the success of such acts as hiding out in a sailor’s chest for a few days—easy to say, but rather difficult to thoroughly imagine, especially when you consider that the people in the trunks were upside-down much of the time—or sprinkling cayenne pepper on shoes to distract the trackers’ dogs, or posing in the capes and top hats of southern gents (if your skin color allowed), or riding as a fugitive on the night transport of the Underground Railroad. De Ramus, once a Pulitzer Prize finalist, has a bold voice, flowing with admiration and dramatic in its scene setting, that serves the stories well. The author supplements these energetic narratives with historical background on the Promised Land of Canada, which had its own prejudices against blacks, and the Underground Railroad, which also had its downside: “ . . . only a small band of citizens actually aided slaves, and not all of them welcomed blacks into their homes or even churches except in segregated ‘negro seats.’ ” Once escaped, De Ramus notes, these former slaves didn’t simply hide out, but often started schools and whole communities to aid freed blacks.

Celebrates with notes of grace and passion the courage of people who acted on the Declaration of Independence’s words about being created equal and pursuing happiness. (Illustrations)