Educators Blog

Our Black History: On William Still

Friday, 2/21/14

William Still, born in 1821, is a man with an incredible life story that tells of personal liberation and achievement that can still inspire us today! An abolitionist and conductor of the Underground Railroad, Still worked to help those looking for freedom, find it. (Click on the first link to read more about who William Still was!) Living here in Philadelphia, he facilitated safe stay and passage through the area so that those fleeing slavery could establish new lives for themselves.

Still was agent commissioned by the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, and as a self-educated writer and historian, he kept journals of his experiences dealing with the Underground Railroad. HSP houses one of Still's journals wherein we are able to read his firsthand account of people fleeing their enslavement.  His journal includes article excerpts, lists, and notes shedding an insider's light on the  network that made the railroad from slavery possible. As synopsis of his work, drawn from his personal journals, he also authored a book published after the Civil War, called The Underground Railroad. This book is also available in the HSP archives and digital library.

Incorporating a primary source such as William Still's journal in your classroom will connect your students to their learning material more intimately than a textbook or lecture could. To simply use the image and text from the primary source above,  check out the online exhibition of Still's journal for its transcription on the Preserving American Freedom digital project. If you'd prefer a comprehensive Unit Plan that incorporates this artifact, HSP also provides you with the From Fugitive Slaves to Free Americans teacher's lesson plan.

HSP proudly houses other intriguing documents relevant to this man and our area. For instance, here is a letter between Jacob C. White and William Still regarding the Pythian Baseball Club, the first baseball club founded by and for black people, also known as the Philadelphia Pythians. Check out the story of the Pythian baseball club on the PhilaPlace website or in Legacies.

More relevant resources and information to browse online with HSP include the announcement of the William Still Digital History project, related pages and resources found there, and, as aforementioned, the Preserving American Freedom digital project.

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