William Still and His Freedom Stories
Author & Illustrator: Don Tate
Ages: 6 to 10 years old
A chance encounter with an enslaved man seeking to find news of the family that had escaped before him, allowed William to reunite his brother to the rest of his family.
So much of American history, especially in regards to slavery and the African American struggle for freedom and equality, remains unwritten and inaccessible for younger audiences. In a beautifully written and illustrated book, Tate brings to life the story of William Still, a little known hero and father of the underground railroad.
William was a remarkable man born to parents who had escaped slavery. His parents made a gut wrenching decision to leave behind two boys in order to escape, a fact that haunted their freedom. William was the youngest of 17 children, two lost in the south. He grew up hearing the stories of his parents’ life in slavery and it propelled him to work towards the goal of abolition.
As a young man, William took a low-paying job with the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. Working his way up from sweeping the floors and sorting mail, William gained the trust of his employers, eventually becoming a manager. He was finally doing the work he wanted, raising money, planning rescues, and sheltering escaped slaves as they fled north to freedom on the underground railroad.
A chance encounter with an enslaved man seeking to find news of the family that had escaped before him, allowed William to reunite his brother to the rest of his family. This was a pivotal, life altering moment, not just for William’s family, but for countless others. William began recording every detail he could of the people escaping from the south. He recorded names, where folks were coming from, how they escaped, and who they left behind. To this day, his records are some of the best evidence of the workings of the Underground Railroad. His meticulous records helped reunite several families. Despite the immense personal risk of recording these stories, Still continued to do the work.
He eventually left the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society to start his own coal business, but continuef to fund, protest, and work to end slavery.
Don Tate’s book is an important and beautiful addition to all the stories we must tell our children about the birth of this nation (as it stands today). His words are unflinching, his artwork sure to inspire readers to learn more about the remarkable stories of all the strong and brave men, women, and children who risked their lives to achieve their freedom.
But this is not a saccharine story of heroes and heroism. It is harrowing, and hard, and Tate does a great job of reminding readers that the fight for freedom isn’t always fair, especially for Black people. A lesson we still need to keep learning.
I would definitely encourage reading this book with your kids. There is much to explain, much to discuss, hard conversations to be had. A good thing for all of us to practice.
Educators, Peachtree has a fantastic Teacher’s Guide for the book to help aid classroom discussions.
My thanks to Peachtree Publishing for providing a Review Copy of this book. All opinions provided herein are my own.
Please, leave comments! I love a HEALTHY exchange of ideas. After all, critical thinking is essential to life.