Steal away to Jesus
Steal away home
I ain’t got long to stay here
Most people in Kentucky are unaware that “seducing or enticing slaves to leave their lawful owners” was once such a grievous crime that scores of abolitionists suffered long years behind bars for their common-sense daring. One of them was forgotten in his cell until five years beyond the end of slavery and the Civil War. Others emerged to tell of bleeding under the warder’s lash in a “jaws of hell” torment delivered by the state as the appropriate penalty for urging blacks to find freedom.
Modern Kentucky is blessed that some citizens — including an archivist and a public defender — are roiled enough to be campaigning for a just postscript to that horrendous era: an official pardon for 44 abolitionists long dead and gone. The campaign is a welcome contrast to thoughtless proclamations that embarrass Old South statehouses with salutes to a Confederate history often omitting the towering facts of slavery.
“To be totally forgotten — where nobody today even remembers their names — it seems an incredible injustice,” James Prichard, a retired state archivist, told The Lexington Herald-Leader about his research on the 44, 24 of them whites. Mr. Prichard’s work inspired Rodney Barnes, the public defender in Frankfort, and Jared Schultze, a Kentucky-born college intern determined to set his state’s history right.
Distracted though he is by current criminality, Mr. Barnes presses for the pardons as time-defying challenges for the halls of justice. “These people are heroes — they did the right thing,” said Mr. Barnes, laboring for this chance for Kentucky to stand tall. The office of Gov. Steve Beshear admits to being “intrigued” and is reviewing the pardon request.
Cold cases from slavery days truly come alive in the details Mr. Prichard has gathered. Tales of Tom Johnson, “a free man of color” who fell in love with Amanda, the property of F. B. Merriman of Marion County. The freed slave was imprisoned for wooing Amanda into elopement. And the black matriarch Julett Miles, who doubled back from freedom in Ohio when she heard her enslaved family was up for resale in Kentucky. She did three years for the crime of “stealing” some of her own children. She was buried with her history, until now.
May 18, 2010 at 8:19 AM
We are the only ones who can write our legacy, and keep the ancestry memory alive, and do we need it badly, for these so call tough mofo Euros talking big s_t.