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PHOTO ESSAY

The Underground Railroad

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Pinky for sale

Courtesy of the National Historic Landmarks collection

The spiritual home of the Underground Railroad, Brooklyn's Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims was ministered at its 1847 founding by flamboyant nineteenth-century abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher—brother of Uncle Tom's Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe—and played host to prominent antislavery activists William Lloyd Garrison, Charles Sumner, Wendell Phillips, and John Greenleaf Whittier. Although the church is believed to have hidden fugitive slaves on their way north, it was most well-known for its dramatic "legal" emancipations: With Beecher taking on the role of auctioneer, congregants would bid to purchase the freedom of slaves from their owners (a practice, it should be noted, laden with controversy, as it was seen by detractors as supporting the institution). The most famous auction involved Sally Maria Diggs, a nine-year-old girl known as "Pinky," for whom $900 was raised by Plymouth members in 1860. Her freedom secured, Diggs went on to live in Washington, D.C., graduating from Howard University and marrying lawyer James Hunt. In 1927 she returned to Plymouth, which is still active, to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of Beecher's inaugural sermon.

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