William Still: Father of the Underground Railroad

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William Still (1821-1902), a conductor on the Underground Railroad who helped nearly 800 enslaved African Americans to freedom.

William Still (1821-1902), a conductor on the Underground Railroad who helped nearly 800 enslaved African Americans to freedom.

William Still, a leading 19th century abolitionist working in Philadelphia, conducted hundreds of enslaved people to freedom on the Underground Railroad, but his name is often forgotten. In a new biography, historian ANDREW DIEMER returns William Still to his rightful place in history alongside the more widely recognized figures like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and John Brown. Diemer details Still’s life, from poverty, to becoming a leader in the abolitionist movement, then a wealthy coal merchant.

Born in 1821, Still grew up in the New Jersey Pinelands, the youngest of 18 children to parents who had once been enslaved. He came to Philadelphia with nothing, taught himself to read and write and secured a job at the Anti-Slavery Society, starting his abolition work. In addition to helping hundreds of people escape slavery, Still also kept detailed records of his work and published an 800-page book, “The Underground Railroad: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narrative, Letters, Etc,” which remains an important historical account. Diemer joins us to talk about Still’s life and contributions and why his story has been overlooked. His book is, Vigilance: The Life of William Still, Father of the Underground Railroad.

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