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Runaway Slave Narratives

edited by Devon W. CarbadoDonald Weise

Pub Date: Aug. 21st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8070-6912-7
Publisher: Beacon

Excerpts from the narratives of runaway slaves organized by the principal reason for the flight to freedom.

In some ways, this is an unnecessary volume, as the narratives are widely available elsewhere, in print and online. But editors Carbado (Law and African American Studies/UCLA) and Magnus Books editor in chief Weise have sharpened and particularized the focus, allowing readers a chance to experience the stories from a fresh perspective. After a brief introduction—where we learn that most runaways didn’t head north but instead to southern cities, hoping to disappear into anonymity—the editors step aside and let these remarkable men and women tell their own stories. Carbado and Weise arrange the escapes by motive (recognizing that no such radical act has a single reason): runs for freedom, family, religion and “by any means necessary,” a sort of catchall category. Included are the stories of Moses Roper, who found his mother years later (she didn’t initially recognize him); James Curry, who writes about brutal floggings; Bethany Veney, who relates how she never again saw her husband; Isaac Williams, who battled wolves during his escape; and William and Ellen Craft, whose bold escape featured cross-dressing and passing as white on public transportation. Among these perhaps lesser-known stories are also selections from the famous narratives of Frederick Douglass, Nat Turner and Harriet Jacobs. Many of the cruelties remain horrifying to read. Emerging as true humanitarian heroes are the Quakers, who invariably helped when others would not.

A useful one-volume selection featuring grim but inspiring tales.