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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Don West, January 22, 1975. Interview E-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Describing leaders of the Underground Railroad

West shares some Underground Railroad lore, remembering Levi Coffin and John Fairfield, two men who helped slaves to freedom.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Don West, January 22, 1975. Interview E-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

DON WEST:
I have read a lot of history, studied a lot of history. And run into characters in history such as Levi Coffin, who was an underground railroad worker and called himself the father of the underground railroad and the president and all. And to me, in a lot of ways, he's a bastard, see. But he did a lot of good inspite of being a bastard. I remember Coffin and John Fairfield. Fairfield was a conductor on the underground railroad and always went armed. He would steal a horse or he would steal a slave. He would shoot to defend the refugees who were under his care. He would come through Cincinnati, where Coffin kept his underground station, and he would never stay with Coffin. He would get help for his refugees as much as he could, but he would stay out in the black community. Coffin was always criticizing Fairfield because he was wicked, he was immoral, he would carry a gun, he would cuss, and he'd said that he would shoot a slave holder if it meant saving his refugees from being taken back into slavery. And that was wicked to Coffin. "But," Coffin would say, "he'd give the shirt off his back for a refugee." And that was true, he would do that. So I have always admired Fairfield and I thought Coffin, in many ways, was a bastard. But he did a lot of good in spite of it.