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PHOTO ESSAY

African Americans in Appalachia

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Underground Railroad

"The Underground Railroad" by Charles T. Webber, c. 1893. (Library of Congress.)

Appalachia was divided by Civil War loyalties. Northern Appalachians joined the Union, Southern Appalachians joined the Confederacy and those in the Central Appalachian area were at a crossroads. Two years after Virginia voted to join the Confederacy, mountaineers in the west and southwest areas of Virginia formed West Virginia as an independent state and joined the Union.

There was an active Underground Railroad running through Appalachia from Chattanooga to Pennsylvania. Among those facilitating the flight of fugitive slaves through the Appalachian states was the African American abolitionist William Still. Incredibly, one of these fugitives was Peter Still, a long-lost brother who had been left enslaved when their mother escaped to freedom. William Still later wrote a popular book, The Underground Railroad, extolling the fugitives' bravery.

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