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9–12

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• The Civil War

Book Review: 5,000 Miles to Freedom


The story of slaves escaping the horrors of slavery by "riding" the Underground Railroad is real and familiar enough, but the story of Ellen and William Craft is amazing and astounding and a hundred other adjectives. The Crafts boarded a real train and traveled in disguise all the way from Georgia to to Boston, where they boarded a ship for England. The story of their flight is filled with narrow escapes and blind luck, the kind of circumstances that often favor the bold and desperate.

Ellen Craft was more white than black. Her father was a white man, and her mother was a slave. Ellen put her skin color to good use when she and William decided to escape. But rather than try to pass herself off as a white woman, Ellen dressed herself up as a white man. She was "Mr. Johnson"; and despite the fact that she could neither read nor write, she made good on the promise to escape and, despite a few separations, managed to meet up with her husband at the appointed time and make good their getaway to England.

This was before the Civil War started, and the Crafts stayed away for the entire war. But they weren't away from the abolitionist effort. William made two trips to Africa, to try to highlight the plight of African slaves for the English government. And the Crafts published a book about their escape, which turned out to be a best-seller in America.

When the war ended, the Crafts returned and helped to educate former slaves and help them re-enter society. They were truly inspirations to thousands in the North and South.

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