Cotton was King in Memphis, and in the mid-1800s, the need for free labor was in high demand.
After reaching America, Africans were auctioned off to the highest bidder and doomed to a life of slavery, stripping them of their dignity, their pride and most of all, their freedom. Whenever possible, individuals attempted to liberate themselves by running away. Many runaways were aided by abolitionists who gave them safe passage on the Underground Railroad.
That need was met with the establishment of more than a dozen lucrative slave-trading businesses. Memphis quickly became Tennessee's largest slave-trading city.
Jacob Burkle, a German immigrant, was among those in the anti-slavery movement who risked their lives to help escaping Africans by harboring them in their homes and aiding them on their journey to freedom. Cloaked in secrecy, Burkle, a stockyard owner, operated an Underground Railroad way station on the outskirts of Memphis from around 1855 until the abolition of slavery. Burkle's unsuspecting, modest home, located near the banks of the Mississippi River, provided refuge for runaway slaves during their flight to freedom in the North.