Martha P. just sent me a link to an NYT op-ed piece by Fergus Bordewich about the history and, more pointedly, the myths of the Underground Railroad. Pretty juicy stuff. His expose, of course, does not make the true stories of slave escapes any less dramatic--I really like the new picture book by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson, Henry's Freedom Box (Scholastic), about a slave who had himself mailed North.
There was a time--the 1980s--when it looked like children's literature was going to be smothered with quilts, not just as maps for escaping slaves but anytime anyone needed a symbol for intergenerational understanding. It was too easy, and just another way of tucking children in. Throw OFF your quilts, I say!
Bordewich is also the author of the similarly myth-busting Killing the White Man's Indian, which took on the Chief Seattle/Dances with Wolves view of Native Americans and revealed a far more complex picture than many want to see. His autobiography, My Mother's Ghost, is good, too.