There aren’t many aspects about slavery worth celebrating, but every once in a while there is a story that can redeem your faith in humanity. … well, a part of humanity, at any rate.
This book tells the true story of three slaves from Kentucky – John Price, his cousin Dinah, and his friend Frank – who crossed the Ohio River to freedom in Ohio, where slavery was outlawed. But they couldn’t rest easy: part of the compromise legislation of 1850 was a toughening of the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed slave owners to capture and return runaways from anywhere in the U.S. Aiding slaves was made a federal crime. Aiding slave owners, on the other hand, was now a lucrative operation. The main hope slaves had was to make it to Canada, where slavery had been outlawed since 1834.
The trio of slaves split up, since slave hunters would be looking for three slaves traveling together, and John and Frank ended up in Oberlin, Ohio, where they decided to remain. Slave hunters soon followed; they had been promised $500 per slave, equivalent to $13,000 each in today’s money.
John was captured, but the citizens of Oberlin didn’t just turn their backs. Hundreds of Oberlinians worked together to rescue John. While they did reclaim him from the slave hunters, he vanished after a few days. No one knows what became of John, Dinah, and Frank.
The rescuers were considered heroes by some and criminals by others, including most Southerners. The U.S. Government under President James Buchanan sided with the slaveholders, and thirty-seven men in Oberlin were sent to jail for three months.
After their sentences were up, the town of Oberlin had a big celebration and pledged:
No fugitive slave shall ever be taken from Oberlin either with or without a warrant, if we have power to prevent it.”
Eric Velasquez employs lush, full-color oil paintings as well as mixed media to show the range of emotions and the drama of this episode in history. He also provides accurate representations of this time period.
The final image is a large reproduction of an 1859 photo of the actual rescuers taken in the courtyard of the jail.
Back matter includes an Author’s Note, bibliography, suggestions for further reading, and a list of relevant websites.
Evaluation: This inspiring story can introduce a number of issues to kids, such as divisions in the country prior to the Civil War, and the difference between rule of law and moral imperatives.
Published by Walker Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013