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Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad    by Ann Hegedorn order for
Beyond the River
by Ann Hegedorn
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

In history classes, we all learned of the Underground Railway the conduit that helped slaves escape from slave-holding states to freedom in the North. To me, these classes were simply lessons enforcing the adage that if we don't learn from history, we shall be forced to relive it. I took it all in, counted myself lucky to have never suffered under the cruel yoke of the slave, and went on to other things.

Reading Beyond the River has made me much more aware of the sufferings of slaves, and of the dedicated white men and women who declared themselves abolitionists - and practiced what they preached. The book concentrates on the brave people of Ripley, Ohio, who developed and ran a system to help slaves escape their owners and flee to freedom in the North. Many continued on to Canada. This period of time, from the late 1830s, became known as 'the war before the war'. Ripley overlooked the Ohio River and beyond that lay Kentucky, a slave state.

John Rankin, unable to live with the thought of slavery, preached against it, and then acted on his words by developing a pipeline to help escaping slaves. Rankin, his wife Jean, and their thirteen children, spent their lifetimes dedicated to abolition. Other good men joined Rankin John Mahan, Isaac Beck, and freedman John Parker, to name a few. These were selfless, good-hearted people who risked life and property to do what they felt was right. Ann Hagedorn spent three years writing their history a tribute to the unflagging efforts of opponents of a cruel and inhumane system that brutalized every man, woman and child unfortunate enough to be part of it.

John Rankin was a great man who endured much in his time on earth, but never quailed at doing what he felt was right. After the war, Preacher Henry Ward Beecher was asked, 'Who abolished slavery?' His response: 'Reverend John Rankin and his sons did it.' A fitting tribute.

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