Right after I moved out of my restrictive household, several others came to me, and I’d provided emotional support or physically helped them to move out.
I’d alert the same network of friends who supported me, enlisting their aid.
My friend Cynthia Barram, who also happens to be African-American, started calling it “Eleanor’s Underground Railroad.”
The idea resonated with me. I think this was for a couple of reasons.
1.) Homeschool kids often read a lot of history.
I researched the Underground Railroad for a 6th grade project, and I often reenacted what I read, playing “slaves” and “overseer” with my siblings. Several of my homeschooled alumni friends that I met in college played the same games in childhood.
Before bedtime, my mom used to read us Laura Ingalls Wilder books and the Between Two Flags series, set during the Civil War. I read biographies of Harriet Tubman and historical fiction like Jip, His Story, and the patriarchal Elsie Dinsmore series. My friends Kathleen and Rebekah wrote their own Civil War historical fiction novel in late middle school, distributing serialized chapters after church each Sunday.
I was also fascinated with reading biographies about Corrie Ten Boom and her family hiding Jewish people from the Gestapo, how they built a special room in the back of their house to shelter them.
None of the people who came to me were runaway slaves or Jews. None of us faced oppression like the enslavement or massacre of an entire people group.
But I had always connected with these narratives, and my friends did, too. We weren’t immersed in popular culture, so we tended to identify more closely with people from before my time.
I told myself that I would also hide those seeking shelter if I had the opportunity.
2.) We looked to these historical models for social action.
We obviously didn’t compare to people enslaved or threatened with genocide.
I don’t pretend to understand what others before suffered. I just looked to them as a model, a template.
But we were controlled and someo of us were abused. My friend Kyle, who works at a non-profit to prevent human trafficking, says that the number of young adults from this background being denied agency by overbearing parents is troubling.
The original Underground Railroad worked because it was subtle. A secret, subversive organization for social justice, involving Quakers, escaped former slaves, and other religious or politically motivated people who couldn’t tolerate the injustices they observed.
So they hid people, moved them from house to house until they reached freedom.
And that’s what my friends and I did.
We took people escaping oppression into our homes, fed them, gave them a place to sleep until they were ready to find a place of their own. We told them it was okay to be themselves, to follow their dreams and desires.
Harriet Tubman and the others became like our patron saints, our guides. We followed the model because it worked for those before us.
And by following in their footsteps, we also sought to honor them.
The Underground Railroad: Being an angel with a shotgun
The Underground Railroad: The trouble with freeing people
Why the name Underground Railroad?
The Underground Railroad: Racquel’s story
The Underground Railroad: Defecting from a cult
The Underground Railroad: Ashley’s story
The Underground Railroad: Cynthia Jeub’s story
The Underground Railroad: Options, not ultimatums
The Underground Railroad: Gissel’s story
The Underground Railroad: Homeschool, the perfect hiding place
The Underground Railroad: Self-care during activism
Underground Railroad Stations: How you can help (Cynthia Jeub’s thoughts)
Underground Railroad Conductors: How you can help (Eleanor Skelton’s thoughts)
The Underground Railroad: Surviving and thriving on the outside