Memory, Movement and Action

Posted on behalf of Karen M. Huck, Library Specialist

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cover art for The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Click the image to see it in the Library catalog.

Location: Undergrad
Call Number: PS3573.H4768 U53 2016

There is another copy at the Ikenberry Residence Hall Library and an online audiobook is also available (access on-campus or with UIUC NetID).

An important work that grapples with issues of movement, both physical and psychological, for Blacks, Whites and Native Americans during the early 1800s, Underground Railroad bleeds with relevance. Reimagining the Underground Railroad as a physical train, Whitehead follows Cora, the protagonist, on a subterranean escape, from stop to stop, encountering varied degrees of oppression above ground and even below. Painful yet hopeful, the story propels readers towards new understandings of both blatant and subtle racism that permeates society at that time. But how far have we come since those early days? Not far enough. Cora’s opinion that “Poetry and prayer put ideas into people’s heads that got them killed, distracted them from the ruthless mechanism of the world” illustrates how action and movement matter more than words and ideas. In contemporary terms, voting proves stronger and more potent than believing. Once each American embraces “doing” over “hoping, praying and thinking,” the true wishes of the people will prevail. Underground Railroad is Whitehead’s call to action for every American.

Photo of the author

Photo by Madeline Whitehead.

Read reviews from The New York Times, The Guardian, or The Denver Post.

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