Emancipation Relocation.

AuthorEdmonds, Terry
PositionIlyon Woo's "Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey From Slavery to Freedom"

Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey From Slavery to Freedom by Ilyon Woo Simon & Schuster, 416 pp.

In 1848, an enslaved husband and wife escaped from Georgia, she disguised as a young white man, he as "his" servant. Their story inspired abolitionists around the world.

In 1848, at a time when Black families were routinely ripped apart and Black bodies were bought and sold in public squares as chattel, a Black man and his mixed-race wife pulled off one of the most daring and ingenious feats of self-emancipation imaginable. Defying conventions of race, class, and gender, William and Ellen Craft of Macon, Georgia, transformed their appearances and engineered an extraordinary flight to freedom. Their daring escape energized the abolitionist movement and helped change the course of history.

Ilyon Woo's new book, Master Slave Husband Wife, lifts the curtain on a largely unknown chapter in America's complicated racial history. In her first book, The Great Divorce: A Nineteenth-Century Mother's Extraordinary Fight Against Her Husband, the Shakers, and Her Times, Woo wove history and narrative together in a compelling look at 19thcentury women's rights. In this book, she tells the true story of a courageous married couple who challenged slavery, America's original sin. She also sheds light on America's original blessing--the efforts of free Blacks and people of all races to answer the clarion call of the Declaration of Independence by risking their own "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor" in the fight to end slavery and racial discrimination.

William Craft, a skilled cabinetmaker, was the property of Ira Hamilton Taylor, a banker who rented him out to a local shop owner. Ellen Craft was the daughter and property of James Smith, who had enslaved and impregnated her mother. When James's wife could no longer tolerate Ellen's presence in the house, Ellen was given to her white half sister, Eliza, as a wedding present. She then became the legal property of Eliza's new husband, Dr. Robert Collins.

Both Ellen and William were trusted "favorites" of their owners. But favored slave status was no match for their dream of a free life together. William and Ellen first met in 1841, when he was 18 and she was 15. As their relationship deepened, Woo writes, Ellen made clear that she would not marry or bear children until they escaped bondage, "not until her own body--and therefore her children--belonged to her." Ultimately, however, Ellen relented. Though...

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