Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom Critical Context - Essay

Ellen Smith

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The Crafts’ narrative is supplemented in R. J. M. Blackett’s 1999 edition by the editor’s substantial essay revealing other aspects of the Craft family’s remarkable lives. William’s narrative only touches on the couple’s travel to Boston and not at all on the beginning of their tour of New England cities and towns, sponsored by one of the most important of all escaped slaves, William Wells Brown, and by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Before January was out, only a month after their escape, audiences were hearing them relate orally their harrowing thousand miles and the powerful antislavery message that would be published eleven years later in England. Thus, before the book existed, its substance was known by the people who crowded into halls in Boston and Worcester and in small Massachusetts towns such as Northborough and Abington. The Crafts contributed to the antislavery cause not only in 1860 but at the outset of the federal legislation commanding that fugitive slaves be rounded up and returned to their masters. The Crafts themselves were forced to flee to Canada and then to England, where Running a Thousand Miles to Freedom was published only months before the outbreak of the American Civil War.

William would soon work along the West African coast to discourage African leaders from cooperating with slave traders. In 1869, the Crafts returned to the United States, even to the state from which they escaped, Georgia, where William farmed and Ellen and their daughter opened two schools for freed slaves. In their remaining years, the Crafts struggled on, despite debt and fierce post-Reconstruction opposition from southern whites, spending their lives demonstrating that free African Americans could manage their own lives and assist their brothers and sisters to overcome the consequences of slavery.