gateway to freedomMore than any other scholar, Eric Foner has influenced our understanding of America’s history. Now, making brilliant use of extraordinary evidence, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian once again reconfigures the national saga of American slavery and freedom in Gateway to Freedom: the Hidden History of the Underground Railroad.

A deeply entrenched institution, slavery lived on legally and commercially even in the northern states that had abolished it after the American Revolution. Slaves could be found in the streets of New York well after abolition, traveling with owners doing business with the city’s major banks, merchants, and manufacturers. New York was also home to the North’s largest free black community, making it a magnet for fugitive slaves seeking refuge. Slave catchers and gangs of kidnappers roamed the city, seizing free blacks, often children, and sending them south to slavery.

To protect fugitives and fight kidnappings, the city’s free blacks worked with white abolitionists to organize the New York Vigilance Committee in 1835. In the 1840s vigilance committees proliferated throughout the North and began collaborating to dispatch fugitive slaves from the upper South, Washington, and Baltimore, through Philadelphia and New York, to Albany, Syracuse, and Canada. These networks of antislavery resistance, centered on New York City, became known as the underground-railroad. Forced to operate in secrecy by hostile laws, courts, and politicians, the city’s underground-railroad agents helped more than 3,000 fugitive slaves reach freedom between 1830 and 1860. Until now, their stories have remained largely unknown, their significance little understood.

Building on fresh evidence – including a detailed record of slave escapes secretly kept by Sydney Howard Gay, one of the key organizers in New York – Foner elevates the underground-railroad from folklore to sweeping history. The story is inspiring – full of memorable characters making their first appearance on the historical stage – and significant – the controversy over fugitive slaves inflamed the sectional crisis of the 1850s. It eventually took a civil war to destroy American slavery, but here at last is the story of the courageous effort to fight slavery by “practical abolition,” person by person, family by family. (description from publisher)

The Singing RevolutionEstonia is a tiny nation squeezed between the Baltic Sea and the former Soviet Union. For centuries they have been subject to occupation and used as a pawn by larger, more powerful nations. In 1920 they achieved independence and were thriving only to fall victim again to dictators – in 1939 Hitler and Stalin signed a secret agreement that divided Europe between them. Shortly thereafter, Stalin invaded Estonia and brutally suppressed resistance.

This invasion was followed by more than 50 years of oppression, first by Stalin, then Hitler, then Stalin again. Thousands of Estonians were killed or shipped to Siberia to work in the labor camps. The Estonian language was outlawed, thousands of Russians were moved to Estonia (called “russification”) to further dilute the native population and any hint of free thinking was swiftly and severely punished.

However, the Estonians refused to give up their culture or their national identity. One way was through singing – this tiny nation has one of the largest collections of folk songs in the world and singing clubs are very popular. A national song festival – “Laulupidu” – has been held every five years since 1894. The Soviets allowed this festival to continue, but required the singing of Soviet communist songs, sung in Russian. On one occasion the Estonians outsmarted their oppressors and spontaneously began singing traditional folk songs in Estonian. The band was ordered to play louder to drown out the singing, but massed voices were too loud.

As Soviet Russia began to crumble, Estonia pushed for more freedoms and independence. Throughout their struggle, singing became a uniting force, bringing people together countless times. The Estonian revolution remained bloodless and, when the USSR finally collapsed, Estonia emerged as an intact nation, united by their suffering but also by their joyous singing.

The Singing Revolution will leave you with a lump in your throat and goosebumps on your skin. It’s hard to believe that singing can stop tanks, but the Estonians did it again and again. The beautiful, lovingly produced documentary will remind you again of both the price of freedom and why it’s so precious.

submitted by Georgann

road-of-lost-innocenceThis inspiring true story is the author’s experience as a sex slave in Cambodia, how she broke free and how she now helps other girls find freedom. Somaly Mam is a simple woman, not well educated, and she tells her story in simple, frank language. I was hesitant to read it at first because I was afraid it would be too explicit and give me nightmares. Although she tells a heartrending story and she still suffers nightmares, it was not so graphic as to give them to me.

In The Road of Lost Innocence, Mam explains the series of tragic events that lead to her being sold into the sex slave trade when she was about 16. As she relates those years your heart just breaks. What all this woman lived through is just unbelievable.

Eventually Mam escaped and made a life for herself. Now she heads up an organization that helps other women and girls as young as six to also escape. She lives in constant threat to her life and to those of her children, but she perseveres. I was glad I took the risk to read this story. It is a story of hope well worth reading.