Monday, August 15, 2016

The Perilous Lure of the Underground Railroad

By Kathryn Schulz
Stories of the Underground Railroad provide the possibility of moral comfort in a profoundly uncomfortable past. Illustration by Leigh Guldig
The Underground Railroad entered our collective imagination in the eighteen-forties, and it has since been a mainstay of both national history and local lore. But in the past decade or so it has surged into “the popular literature of this nation”—and the popular everything else, too. This year alone has seen the publication of two major Railroad novels, including Oprah’s first book-club selection in more than a year, Colson Whitehead’sThe Underground Railroad” (Doubleday). Among his other concerns in this book, Whitehead wants to know what does: how the Underground Railroad really worked, and at what cost, and for whom. The great virtue of a figurative railroad is that, when someone needs it—and someone always needs it—we don’t have to build it. We are it, if we choose. [link]