Dr. Cheryl LaRoche on Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad: The Geography of Resistance

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Rich in oral histories, maps, memoirs, and archaeological investigations,Dr. Cheryl Janifer LaRoche's highly anticipated new book, Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad, examines the “geography of resistance” and tells the powerful, and inspiring story of African Americans ensuring their own liberation in the midst of oppression.

This enlightening study uncovers a new historical perspective on pathways to freedom from enslavement. Unlike previous histories of the Underground Railroad, which have concentrated on frightened fugitive slaves and their benevolent abolitionist accomplices, LaRoche focuses instead on free African American communities — and the crucial help they provided to individuals fleeing slavery, and the terrain where those flights to freedom occurred. Outstanding among them was Boston's powerful community on the north slope of Beacon Hill, considered the nexus of the abolitionist movement.

Exploring the religious and fraternal institutions at the heart of these free black communities, LaRoche demonstrates how the AME and Baptist churches and Prince Hall Masons, in addition to Quakers, provided both physical and social structures that fostered escape from slavery. LaRoche shows how landscape features, such as waterways, iron forges, and caves, played a key role in the conduct and effectiveness of the Underground Railroad. 

Dr. LaRoche, a lecturer in American studies at the University of Maryland, also has served as a consultant for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and an archaeological conservator for the African Burial Ground Project in New York City.  In 2011, The Society for Historical Archaeology awarded her the John L. Cotter Award for exemplary work in the study of African American archaeology.

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