Until Emancipation, Detroit and the Detroit River community served as the gateway to freedom for thousands of African American people escaping enslavement. Detroit was one of the largest terminals of the Underground Railroad, a network of abolitionists aiding enslaved people seeking freedom. Detroit’s Underground Railroad code name was Midnight. At first, Michigan was a destination for freedom seekers, but Canada became a safer sanctuary after slavery was abolished there in 1834. With passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, many runaways left their homes in Detroit and crossed the river to Canada to remain free. Some returned after Emancipation in 1863.
The successful operation of Detroit’s Underground Railroad was due to the effort and cooperation of diverse groups of people, including people of African descent, Whites, and North American Indians. This legacy of freedom is a vital part of Detroit and its history.