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William Still

Born: 7-Oct-1819
Birthplace: Medford, NJ
Died: 14-Jul-1902
Location of death: Philadelphia, PA
Cause of death: Kidney failure
Remains: Buried, Eden Memorial Cemetery, Collingdale, PA

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Occupation: Activist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Father of the Underground Railroad

William Still was a prominent abolitionist in Philadelphia during America's last decades of slavery. He worked at the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery, ostensibly as janitor and clerical help, but his actual work was on the "underground railroad", helping escaped slaves from the South find their way to freedom in Canada. He traveled to Canada himself to visit ex-slave expatriate communities, and drew on their success to argue for emancipation in America.

His father was a slave who purchased his own freedom, and changed his name from Steel to Still to help anonymize his wife, a fugitive slave. Among the former slaves who sought Still's clandestine assistance was his own brother, whom his mother had been forced to abandon in fleeing slavery. He also provided refuge in his home for the wife, daughter, and sons of John Brown after the raid on Harpers Ferry.

For his activism, Still was frequently referred to as "Father of the Underground Railroad". His journal, published in 1872 as The Underground Rail Road: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, &c. Narrating the Hardships, Hair-Breadth Escapes, and Death Struggles of the Slaves in Their Efforts for Freedom, remains in print, and includes detailed information on each of the 649 escaped slaves who passed through his home. Still also ran a successful stove and coal business in Philadelphia, established an orphanage for the children of African-American Civil War veterans, and was an original stockholder of The Nation magazine.

Father: Levin Steel (farmer)
Mother: Sidney Steel ("Charity")
Brother: Levy Still (slave)
Brother: Peter Still (escaped slave)
Wife: Letitia George Still (m. 1847)
Daughter: Caroline Matilda Still (doctor, b. 1848, d. 1919)
Son: William Wilberforce Still (attorney, b. 1854, d. 1914)
Daughter: Frances Ellen Still (teacher, b. 1857, d. 1930)
Son: Robert George Still (journalist, b. 1861, d. 1900)

    Administrator: Trustee, Storer College

    The Nation Co-Founder
    Freedmen's Aid Commission
    Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery
    Philadelphia Board of Trade
    Society for Improving the Condition of the African Race
    Young Men's Christian Association
    Underground Railroad
    Guinean Ancestry

Author of books:
A Brief Narrative of the Struggle for the Rights of the Colored People of Philadelphia in the City Railway Cars (1867)
The Underground Railroad (1872)
An Address on Voting and Laboring (1874)
Letters of William Still (1984, posthumous)


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