William Still and the Underground Railroad

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Special to the AmNews | 5/17/2012, 1:53 p.m.

In 1859, Still was crucial in the desegregation of Philadelphia's streetcars. Blacks had to pay the full fare yet had to ride on the outside of the car. Still wrote a letter to the press, which focused international attention on this racist practice. In 1867, Pennsylvania legally banned segregation on its streetcars.

For 14 years, the humble Philadelphia businessman tirelessly helped as many runaways as he could get to Freedom's Land, and committed himself to making sure that their stories would not go untold. In 1872, he published "The Underground Railroad," which remains the most definitive account of the slave exodus. The book, which is based on Still's meticulous records and diaries, contains the best evidence of the structure and workings of the Underground Railroad, as well as details of those who used it, where they came from, how they escaped and the families they left behind.

"The heroism and desperate struggle that many of our people had to endure, under the terrible oppression that they were under, 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."

William Still died on July 14, 1902.


  • Look it up: Use the Internet or other reference source to learn more about the Underground Railroad and the life and work of William Still.
  • Talk About It: Discuss the importance of the Underground Railroad and the dangers that the passengers and conductors faced.
  • Write It Down: Good record keeping was an important part of Still's work and the basis of his book, "The Underground Railroad." Choose an important event in your life and write an essay about it. Imagine that someone will be reading it in the future. Try to make your report as detailed as possible.

This Week in Black History

  • May 16, 1966: Stokely Carmichael is named chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
  • May 17, 1988: Renowned ophthalmologist Dr. Patricia E. Bath of Los Angeles patents a device that removes cataracts using laser technology.
  • May 18, 1896: In the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court upholds the doctrine of "separate but equal," ushering in the infamous Jim Crow era.
  • May 19, 1925: Malcolm Little is born in Omaha, Neb. He would become known as Malcolm X.