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Underground Railroad (History Channel)
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
The History Channel's documentary on the Underground Railroad remains one of the definitive television documentaries of this very early civil rights movement. After quickly establishing that the Underground Railroad was certainly not a railroad train that literally ran underground, we see that the Underground Railroad was in fact a hodge-podge, "make it up as you go along" way of escaping slavery in the southern United States to freedom in the northern United States.

The documentary gives us great interviews with historians from fine universities including Princeton and Howard University. Together these historians tell stories that enlighten us about what it was like to use the Underground Railroad to escape to freedom. We see that the routes to safety didn't always work--some slaves were caught and either killed on the spot or returned to their masters for brutal treatment. There were bounty hunters everywhere and even if a runaway slave was successful just crossing the Ohio River proved to be a whopping challenge--after all, many people didn't know how to swim at the time.

We also learn of the pivotal roles played by white and black abolitionists including Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman during the decades before the civil war; and the re-enactments have acting that simulates rather well what a runaway slave looked like as they made their daring escape to freedom.

There's so much more about the Underground Railroad that is discussed in this fantastic documentary; but I must leave some things out to whet your appetite to watch or buy this awesome film.

The DVD comes with a few extras. The most notable extra is a Biography Channel's episode on the life and times of Frederick Douglass; this 45 minute extra tells us a lot about Frederick Douglass although there are times when the subject matter gets a little too tangential in my opinion.

Overall, this fine documentary about the Underground Railroad can teach many people what it was really like on the risky path to freedom; and we see still photos to add even more of a human touch to the interviews we get with the historians from universities. I highly recommend this for history buffs and for anyone who wishes to study the Underground Railroad, slavery in America and the events leading up to the American Civil War.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
This DVD was essentially a collection of stories about the underground railroad. They include most, if not all of the well known railroad "conductors". There was not a whole lot of dramatization, but the stories and the visuals throughout the stories were good enough to keep me occupied and interested throughout.
Stories that they tell include some of the more well known one's, like "boxcar Brown" and they also told some stories that I had not heard (despite going over this period of history 4 times during college, one of which the class was dedicated to the subject of slavery). They also talk a lot about some of the abolitionists and the sentiment of the North and how they aided the escape of numerous slaves.
All in all I really enjoyed the DVD, more than I had anticipated that would. The one criticism that I would make is the glowing portrayal of John Brown. IMO the man was a half-baked nut job and his attack on Harpers Ferry was is not something that should be counted as a positive moment in the anit-slavery movement. They failed to mention that the first man killed in Brown's assault was a black man, a freed slave...
Aside from the John Brown stuff however, it was a great DVD that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in slavery, the Civil War, or just American hitory in general.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2008
One of the most general perceptions that I received from my high school history days in the 1960's concerning the fate of black slaves in America was that they essentially passively waited for the Union armies to free them during the process of the Civil War in the 1860's. In short, blacks had no pre-history as a people who struggled for freedom in their own right but were merely the victims of history. Of course, since those days I have made it my business to find out the real story of slave resistance and although there are many parts that are lost to history we now know that as least some slaves in some situations found ways to break their bondage. Aided during the past few decades by serious scholarly research into the subject we have a more rounded view of the dynamics of slavery in ante bellum American society. This well done History Channel docu-drama, hosted by actress Alfre Woodard, presents one part of that struggle- the work of the Underground Railroad- the fight of courageous individual blacks, aided sometimes by their Northern supporters, to `follow the drinking gourd' North to freedom.

This presentation, complete with the `talking head' commentators that inevitably accompany such efforts, goes back to the early days of slavery and demonstrates that there was always an element of the struggle for freedom by black slaves from the earliest days of European settlement in North America. Moreover, a cadre of freed blacks who were the catalyst for the freedom struggle developed from early on as well. However, the black anti-slavery movement (and for that matter the white part of the anti-slavery movement) did not get energized until the early 19th century in response to the increasing use of slaves to cultivate the expanding cotton crop on Southern plantations. From then on the propaganda fight for emancipation took many forms but basically continued unabated until the Civil War militarily resolved the issue against slavery.

One of the benefits of this production is a well though out exposition of the role that blacks played in this anti-slavery process. Not just the now well-known names like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman but the little known Henry Garnet, John Stills and John Parker. Moreover, whatever social distinctions could be drawn, even by those within the anti-slavery movement, between blacks and whites it represented the first serious integrated social movement in this country. Needless to say such efforts have been far and few in the history of this country. It is clear that there would be no underground railroad stretching, at it needed to at times, all the way to Canada without such integrated efforts. Aiding that clarity is mention of the Midwest, especially the Ohio River towns, as routes to freedom as well as the more well known eastern coastal routes.

A major highlight here was a serious exposition of the role of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 in curtaining the effectiveness of the Underground Railroad, causing the first seeds of irreconcilable conflict between North and South and contributing to the overweening and disproportionate role that the South played in national politics. Some worthwhile time was spent detailing the effects that such legislation had on ordinary citizens who wished not to be complicit with the slaveholders. The various efforts by Northerners, and not just hard core abolitionists, to resist the slave catchers as they headed north is dramatically presented. The well-known Boston case of Anthony Brooks is the focal point for this section.

If there is one criticism that I have of this presentation though it goes back to that first sentence of this entry. If we now know that blacks themselves, as ultimately demonstrated by the enlistment of 200, 000 black Union soldiers in the Civil War, were not mere passive victims of slavery there was a tendency of this presentation to over play the quest for freedom by blacks. One of the hard facts of human history is that oppression oppresses. That little truism conceals this truth- not everyone, and maybe not even many of those oppressed, in the great scheme of things, can break out of the struggle to merely exist to rise out and rebel. Or even flee. This was the vanguard, a precious vanguard, but a vanguard nevertheless. That vanguard expressed that suppressed urge for freedom that we assume beats in every human heart. That is the value of this docu-drama. Watch it and learn a few things about our common history.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
This is a very good release by the history channel that sheds some light on the underground railroad. I could care less about the acting in this film because this is a documentary. Most documentaires aren't rated on how the acting is but how the information is conveyed to the masses. I felt this is a good release because it is talking about a lot of people and information that are being neglected universally in the schools of amerikkka. More documentaries about africans and our history need to be produced and fused into all schools around the nation.
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"Underground Railroad" is a documentary covering the escape of slaves before the American Civil War.

Good:
- Important and fascinating subject matter.
- Necessary historic context is provided.
- Length of this film (95 minutes) strikes the right balance between education and audience patience.
- Personal stories of individuals and families are used effectively to bring the viewer an intimate understanding of the evil of slavery.
- Presentation is very polished.
- Narration is enthusiastic, without smothering the historical review of an important part of America's past.

Bad(ish):
- Acting in re-enactments was sometimes on the weak side.

In short, this is an excellent DVD which I found both informative and emotional.
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on January 25, 2014
I have a number of films on the Civil War, Civil Rights and slavery but, not much on the Underground Railroad. This film gives me an opportunity to get a better understanding about this important aspect of slavery.
A lot of key information about the Underground Railroad can be found throughout the film such as the role abolitionists played as conductors as well as understanding the kinds of passengers (slaves) that made the risky trip north. Good commentary about William Still, father of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, the Moses of her people and of course, Frederick Douglass.
A lot of educational value here I recommend you add this one to your collection on slavery.
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on February 14, 2012
i highly recommend this dvd, its very educational, with great details, it make me even more so to be very proud this be a black beautiful woman, we weren't suppose to last this long, but with many graces to god though the blood of jesus christ, we are here, and god though the sweet blood of jesus christ he still, not done with us yet, god bless some white who sacifice their lives for us..it would have been wonderful if black history would been taught more in this country or any where else, but though the blood of our savoir, our story is still being taught about these maginificent people....my people....thank you amazon....
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on March 7, 2013
I thought they did a very good job of presenting many interesting facts and photos. No info on the quilts that were used at this time, but that's ok as there is a lot of other important information presented.
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on December 6, 2013
Great documentary. I used it in my classroom for Social Studies and even my students loved it. A lot of depth and new knowledge for viewers. If you love history, you will appreciate this documentary.
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on March 26, 2013
the history channel always does a great job of narrating a topic and this one is no exception. Alfre Woodard is a great host and this film is a great view on the Underground railroad.
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