“Our whole economy hinged on Southern markets buying our steamboats here,” Peters said.
Even among white citizens who were against slavery, many still would not have participated in what they deemed criminal activity.
“For the most part, the people of New Albany, especially the church people, were upstanding citizens. They wanted to obey the laws. And so they wouldn’t stick their neck out. You didn’t want to break the laws by harboring fugitives,” Peters said.
At the end of the Civil War, racist sentiments were still all too common in New Albany. Many black people continued on their journey North in the hope of finding better opportunities.
“Slavery, maybe on paper, disappeared in Kentucky at the end of 1865, but peoples’ attitudes didn’t change. You still have that anti-black bias even with the anti-slavery people,” Peters said.
Despite the overt racism and discriminating legislation inflicted upon their community, blacks led the Underground Railroad network. Next week, we’ll discover the names of the men and women who were essential to the success of those who did escape.
“The African-American community was the key,” Peters said. “They had to work with people from the white community, too. But the African American community, let’s face it, were working under all kinds of burdens.”