I admit that I didn’t know what to expect from this book. I’d heard about Ms. Southgate’s walk long before I finally found the book, and the distance involved just staggered me. The book is subtitled “A Grandmother’s 519-mile Underground Railroad Walk.” I am not sure who wrote the comment – Southgate or Stewart – but I think they were right when they said the book is part-memoir, part-history, and part-travel book. And I loved all three parts. I had no idea of the extent of Ohio’s connection to the Underground Railroad and, well, Ms. Southgate made me want to follow her path (though I will probably spend more time in the car than she did). I learned so much about specific individuals involved in the Underground Railroad, mostly black and some white, and this is what I think many of us need – a reminder that this was not just a concept and not just Harriet Tubman. These were human beings taking remarkable risks to get something so many of us take for granted – freedom.
I also appreciated the tone of Ms. Southgate’s presentation of her walk. She is not afraid to portray herself as grumpy, cranky or even in pain. Her humor and her resolve make the book so very real. She was, it seemed to me, just doing something she thought was right and essential. She seemed so driven by her sense of purpose. I have admired her since I first heard of the walk, and now I have even more reasons to do so.
I wholeheartedly support the preservation of all of the nooks and crannies and corners and houses and barns involved in the Underground Railroad. The stories must be told. Still, I wonder if we might be able to be more creative about what to do with them. People tended, in this book, to want all of them to become museums and that makes me concerned about their longevity.
Read the book, study the history, follow Southgate’s path and spread the word.
I am going to create a new genre in honor of this book. I am going to call it a Gateway Book, one that makes you want to read more, do more, learn more, and see more. This book does all of that.
I’d love to teach this one along with Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.