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The Freedom Stairs: The Story of Adam Lowry Rankin, Underground Railroad Conductor Review by Donna Campos

Marilyn Weymouth Seguin
Branden Books
PO Box 812094
Wellesley, MA 02482

The Freedom Stairs: The Story of Adam Lowry Ranking, Underground Railroad Conductor is a 93-page book with a glossy soft-cover. It is a comfortable 6" x 9" size and includes grayscale pictures, drawings, and other illustrations. The book begins with the poem "The Underground Railway" by John Greenleaf Whittier, and it includes an Introduction, ten chapters, an Afterword, 16 pages of illustrations, and Student/Teacher Resources. The Student/Teacher Resources include a timeline, an explanation entitled "How Much of This Story Is True?," a section of Questions and Answers about slavery and the Underground Railroad, and References (websites, books, and articles). The book can be used to support any history study, regardless of school setting. Some reference to Harriet Beecher Stowe is included, making it ideal for further reading when covering her contribution to American history. No additional materials are required, although websites and/or other books listed in the Resources section would make wonderful further research.

The book is drawn from the autobiography of Adam Lowry Rankin. His father was a pastor, and the entire Rankin family worked from their home on Liberty Hill to keep the Underground Railroad moving. I began reading The Freedom Stairs from the Student/Teacher Resources so that I would know just how much of the story is true. According to this section, "the famous Beechers, including Harriett, reportedly were visitors to the Rankin's church and home. Several reports document that Harriett did indeed hear about the story of Eliza's crossing the icy Ohio River from the Rankins, and she included the anecdote in her book Uncle Tom's Cabin." The Question and Answer section is very informative, not just about the book but regarding slavery and the Underground Railroad. Thought-provoking statements are to be found throughout the book. Chapter one begins with comments on the poor treatment of slaves, and one slave tells how her owner never even spoke a kind word to her. I really appreciated the discussion value in the statement "God's laws are above man's laws." At one point, Adam says he spent his entire childhood worrying about what would happen to him and his siblings if his parents were arrested for conducting slaves on the Underground Railroad. This very real statement made me pause to think about the many lives that were impacted during this part of history. Most chapters begin with a quote, which was a nice opening. Adam Lowry Rankin studied carpentry, much to the heartbreak of his parents, who wanted him to go into the ministry like his father. He worked on the stairs to an attic roof vent that signaled the presence of slave hunters--hence the title of the book. The Afterword tells us that later in life, Adam did follow in his father's footsteps and become a minister. The included illustrations include several photos and architectural drawings of the Rankin house as well as a map of the Underground Railway routes of Ohio.

I enjoyed The Freedom Stairs, as much for its historical value as for its intriguing story. The author presents the life of a family working to help others. Even as a son struggles to seek out his own path in life, he still holds fast to the family task of the railroad. The discussion in one of the last chapters between Adam and Harriett Beecher is very eye opening. Both believed strongly in freedom for the slaves, but they had different viewpoints on how to accomplish that goal. Many children may not understand that there were those who wanted immediate emancipation for all slaves and those who wanted a slow release of slaves as the government purchased them, educated them, and even planned for colonization back in Africa. This small portion of text could lead to great discovery regarding the deeper facets of the problem of slavery.

The price of the book is very reasonable when you consider the historical information and the included list of resources. I think The Freedom Stairs is a tremendous read that will help readers better understand the personal side of families working within the Underground Railroad and the huge sacrifices they made.

Product review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June 2010