The Autobiography of John P. Parker, Former Slave and Conductor on the Underground Railroad
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 A rip-roaring adventure yarn lies at the heart of this recently discovered autobiography. Fortunately, editor Sprague, of Morehead State University, mostly lets Parker speak for himself, which the former slave does eloquently. So eloquently, in fact, that the reader wonders at Sprague's assertion that this account ``has the slight rough edge associated with oral history.'' The rough edges seem nearly all smoothed over--probably by Frank Moody Gregg, the white reporter to whom Parker dictated his wonderful tale. Parker (18271900) was a slave whose owners taught him to read and gave him a useful trade. Iron molding was so lucrative, ultimately, that Parker used his wages from it to buy his freedom. He started up a business of his own, married, and had several children, three of whom went on to graduate college. As fascinating as his revealed life was, however, the true excitement of this account comes from Parker's secret activities in the Underground Railroad in Ripley, Ohio, a hotbed of abolitionism when Parker moved there in 1849. Parker tells of traps and daring rescues, near escapes and noble sacrifices. One man gave up his own freedom so that a husband and wife could escape together. Another woman, the ``Eliza'' of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, crossed the Ohio River with her baby as the ice cracked under her and dogs barked at her heels. Although Parker was not directly involved in Eliza's escape, it is because of her that this autobiography exists at all: It was while researching Harriet Beecher Stowe's tale that Frank Moody Gregg stumbled onto the amazing Parker. The rest is history of the best kind--both highly entertaining and informative. (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-393-03941-2
Page count: 96pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1996