Skip to content

Underground Railroad: Inspired by a true story?

May 26, 2021

Find out if Underground Railroad Season 1 on Amazon Prime Video is based on a true story!

The Underground Railroad is available on Amazon Prime Video! If you want to know if it is inspired by a true story, keep reading! Set in pre-Civil War America, Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book envisions the Underground Railroad not as a network of abolitionists and safe havens, but as an actual train, with underground stations where underground militants work, heading north toward freedom. To get the book that inspired the series, it’s here.

Darkness pervades this alternate reality, in which Cora and Caesar, a young man enslaved on the same Georgia plantation as her, use the railroad to find freedom. In every state where the train stops, Whitehead presents his characters with an insidious new manifestation of racism. Before continuing, if you want to know if a second season will see the light, it is here. If you wonder if The Underground Railroad is based on a true story, this is what you need to know.

Is the Underground Railroad based on a true story?

No, Underground Railroad is not based on a true story. It is the web adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s novel of the same name, published in 2016 and critically acclaimed. But the series, like the book, is existentially steeped in history. She portrays the Underground Railroad as a literal railroad system that Cora and others use to escape to the Free States of the United States. In reality, it was a network of secret paths and hiding places that had nothing to do with an underground rail system.

But the railroad analogy is not Whitehead’s invention. It has been around since at least the 1830s. What the term actually refers to began to happen long before that. During and after the American War of Independence, several northern states, including Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York, began to abolish slavery. They quickly became the preferred destinations for runaway slaves from the south. Many traveled further north to Canada, where slavery had practically disappeared since the early 1800s.

true story of the underground railway

In 1850, the Runaway Slave Act became even stricter, requiring citizens and governments of the northern states to actively assist runaway slave owners. This law is considered one of the most unpopular in American history and is often cited as one of the main reasons for the American Civil War.

According to the abolitionist, preacher, and educator John Rankin, the term “underground railroad” appeared “because those who used it disappeared from public view as if they had sunk into the earth. The expression has become so widespread that even today people mistakenly believe that a veritable network of subways existed for the transport of runaway slaves.

Following the narration of the original book, Underground Railroad on Amazon Prime introduces some fictional elements into the description of the five states Cora is in: Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Indiana. It is clear that The Underground Railroad is not inspired by real events, but he uses an alternate 19th century version to create his frame.