The Underground Railroad and the journey south

Tom Blue, enslaved by General Sam Houston, ran away and joined the Mexican military. Thousands of freedom seekers traveled along a network from the southern United States to Texas and ultimately Mexico.

The Underground Railroad ran South too.

A secret transport network comprised of former slaves and abolitionists created in opposition to the legal enslavement of African Americans. The northward trek was well documented, detailing how freedom seekers escaped to the Northern States and Canada. In fact, Detroit, Michigan was the last U.S. destination for many runaways before crossing to freedom in Canada.

Traveling often under the cover of night, signaled by lanterns in windows and using code words associated with a literal train network such as conductors, passengers, stations, and cargo, the organization guided nearly 80,000 to 100,000 people to freedom.

The journey South to freedom in Mexico was not as well organized or documented. Historians project the number of those to have escaped to be around 10,000. Freedom Seekers whom fled south were most often from Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Oklahoma.

Slavery was abolished in 1829. At the time, Texas still belonged to Mexico. The abolishment of slavery prompted White slaveholders to revolt and gain their independence from Mexico. Once they successfully formed the Republic of Texas, slavery became legal again. It was legal still when Texas became a U.S. state in 1845.

Freedom Seekers fled from the southernmost plantations on foot, on horseback, and by hiding in ferries through Mexican ports intention crossing the Rio Grande. Once it was discovered that Tejanos, or Mexicans in Texas, were aiding runaways as conductors, Texas law prohibited Mexicans and Blacks from communicating with each other.

Not only did Mexicans continue to help aid runaways, they also fought and were victorious in defeating bounty hunters that would dare cross their borders looking to recover escaped slaves. Unlike in the North, once the formally enslaved made it to Mexico, there wasn’t segregation. They were able to hold positions they were qualified for, as well as marry natives.

The Underground Railroad ended in 1863 during the Civil War.

“There wasn’t no reason to run up north, all we had to do was to walk, but walk south, and we’d be free as soon as we crossed the Rio Grande. In Mexico, you could be free. They didn’t care what color you was, Black, White, yellow or blue. Hundreds of slaves did go to Mexico and got on all right.”

Felix Haywood, age 92