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The Underground Railroad, an often misunderstood antebellum institution, has been viewed as a simple combination of mainly white “conductors” and black “passengers.” Keith P. Griffler takes a new, battlefield-level view of the war against American slavery as he reevaluates one of its front lines: the Ohio River, the longest commercial dividing line between slavery and freedom. In shifting the focus from the much discussed white-led “stations” to the primarily black-led frontline struggle along the Ohio, Griffler reveals for the first time the crucial importance of the freedom movement in the river’s port cities and towns. Front Line of Freedom fully examines America’s first successful interracial freedom movement, which proved to be as much a struggle to transform the states north of the Ohio as those to its south. In a climate of racial proscription, mob violence, and white hostility, the efforts of Ohio Valley African Americans to establish and maintain communities became inextricably linked to the steady stream of fugitives crossing the region. As Griffler traces the efforts of African Americans to free themselves, Griffler provides a window into the process by which this clandestine network took shape and grew into a powerful force in antebellum America.

Keith P. Griffler is assistant professor of African American history at the University of Cincinnati.

Finalist for the Governor's Award given by the Kentucky Historical Society.

"I easily rank this as my #1 book of the year, for general readers and academics alike."—

"Griffler has done a fine job rescuing lost stories. His objective to create a more racially balanced history of the Underground Railroad is timely and eminently sensible."—American Historical Review

"This innovative examination of the Underground Railroad explores the often neglected and overlooked roles African Americans played. . . . Griffler introduces a variety of African American voices and viewpoints. An important contribution."—Booklist

"Griffler has provided the reader with names of largely unheralded white and black heroes and heroines normally neglected in any studies of this subject."—Bowling Green (KY) Daily News

"Griffler has made an important scholarly contribution to the historiography of the Underground Railroad by focusing on the 'front line' of this emancipation network-the African Americans who led so many bonds people across the Ohio River. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

"Both refreshing and compelling, highlighting the major role that African-Americans in Ohio, individually and communally, played in the ferrying of freedom seekers from Kentucky, Virginia, and other slave states to freedom in the North."—Civil War Book Review

"Frontline of Freedom is a valuable contribution to the growing field of Underground Railroad studies, and one hopes the field will continue in this vein. It is not a simplistic triumphal history of black involvements and interracial cooperation. It is a stirring reminder of the high price of freedom, and of what ordinary men and women, black and white, were willing to risk and endure to pay that price."—Civil War History

"Bold, imaginative, and important, Griffler's short masterpiece will join the front line of classics on the antislavery movement."—H-Net Reviews

"Griffler's important, well-written account . . . is part of welcome recent efforts to focus on the role of African Americans in the UGRR."—Indiana Magazine of History

"Griffler's book introduces so many vibrant lives and events, transformations and telling details, that by book's end the reader is eager for more, rather than less-again, a welcome change, and an accomplishment of which the author can be proud."—Journal of American History

"An important work that makes explicit the role African Americans performed in liberating themselves and fellow bondsmen during the antebellum era."—Journal of Illinois History

"Griffler makes his case well, and in doing so not only offers a necessary corrective to earlier Underground Railroad history but also reminds us that black activity of this sort could not have occurred in a vacuum, the isolated acts of a heroic few."—Journal of Southern History

"Highly informative and engaging. . . . A must read for all scholars of antebellum America who surely will come away from it with a fresh new perspective on this important aspect of United States history."—Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

"A well-researched book that explores closely the dynamics of the operation; exactly who helped whom, the logistics involved, the problems encountered, and black settlements in the North."—Kentucky Monthly

"Well researched and well written. An excellent account of the role of African Americans in the aid given fugitive slaves, as well as the major contribution made by the fugitives themselves in their own liberation."—Larry Gara, Professor Emeritus of History, Wilmington College

"Griffler delves into this little-understood topic to give us a mountain of information."—Northern Kentucky Heritage

"Introduces readers to a host of Ohio River Valley black abolitionists whose involvement in the Underground Railroad was previously unknown."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Griffler's volume excels in presenting an original and extremely useful . . . interpretation of the origins, character, and growth of the Underground Railroad in this vital region."—The Historian

"Griffler has made a significant contribution to our understanding of the role of African Americans in the early formation of the system as well as identified a number of previously underutilized sources."—West Virginia History

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Underground Railroad, Slaves, African Americans, Ohio River Valley, Antislavery movements


United States History

Front Line of Freedom: African Americans and the Forging of the Underground Railroad in the Ohio Valley
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