Fergus Bordewich: That’s a really interesting question and I think that’s an area [in need of] a lot more research, but I’ll answer it the best I can. The vast majority of abolitionists were not necessarily particularly friendly to African Americans. They made tremendous personal sacrifices to help end slavery and to assist fugitive slaves because they thought slavery was a sin and that they were compelled to take action to eradicate that sin. Once slavery had been ended, many of them felt that there job was done and no further actions to help integrate African Americans into American society or to stand up for the rights of African American when they came under assault after the Reconstruction period [needed to be taken]. On the other hand, many, many, many Underground Railroad participants/abolitionists did go on and they stuck with the commitment that they had made before the Civil War.
I mean, one example, a heroic man, Levi Coffin, who was a Quaker who grew up in North Carolina and helped organize the first and really the only documentable Underground operations in the deep South, which forwarded fugitives from North Carolina all the way to Indiana in the 1820s, 30s, [and] 40s. Coffin then went north to Indiana himself and organized the Underground Railroad, or reorganized it in [the case of] Cincinnati. He worked for forty years doing Underground work. During the war, after the war, Levi Coffin worked with freedmen he committed his life to assisting displaced former slaves and many people from Underground Railroad families did go south, often as teachers. Some of them remained in the South for decades until the turn of the Twentieth Century, teaching in freedom schools, black schools, even under increasing assault from racist government, antiblack governments in the South.
It was a battle and as we know the nation failed; the nation lost that battle. Politicians surrendered in Washington after the 1870s what Northern armies had won on the battlefield during the war. I think the stories of many of those individuals who went south and stayed there, who were smeared as carpet baggers and by other opprobrious labels, their stories need to be told better. I think it’s any area we need to look a lot more carefully in.