Learning about the Underground Railroad can engage and fascinate students in a way few other topics can. Textbooks tend to focus mostly on Harriet Tubman and neglect to mention the countless other organizations and individuals that made the escape route possible. One of these other organizations was the Vigilant Committee, whose purpose was to support runaway slaves while they stayed in or passed through Philadelphia. This committee, an auxiliary of the larger Vigilant Association, operated from 1837 to 1852, at which time it dissolved and the new Vigilance Committee was formed.
In the unit plan “The Vigilant Committee and the Underground Railroad,” students learn not only about Pennsylvania’s role in the Underground Railroad, but also about the financial costs of assisting fugitive slaves and the intricate network of diverse individuals who made the Underground Railroad possible. Students will use primary sources and historical thinking to draw conclusions about the role of the Vigilant Committee. There are also other unit plans related to African-Americans in Philadelphia during the 1800’s, including "The Pennsylvania Abolition Society and the Free Black Community" and "From Fugitive Slaves to Free Americans." In addition, check out the prototype of a new web exhibit on William Still and the Underground Railroad. We’d love to hear your comments on how to build this out for student use.