Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom is autobiographical but concerns only a small portion of two lives. The memoir is narrated in the first-person voice of William Craft, but its authorship is attributed both to William and to his wife, Ellen Craft. The narrative details the life they spent as slaves on a plantation near Macon, Georgia, and at their escape to the North in December of 1848.

The Crafts’ master, Charles Collins, recognized the Crafts as intelligent and capable workers. William was a carpenter, and Ellen was a lady’s maid. Their situation was not as dire as that of many African American slaves, but they had already experienced the breakup of slave families, including their own. As a couple married for two years, they were determined to avoid separation and carefully planned their escape to freedom. Ellen, who was light-skinned, would masquerade as a male slave owner; William would be her slave. Their story reveals the extraordinary dangers they faced and the courage and sagacity with which they managed their situation, but it is more than a harrowing story. They made it also a fierce political document against the theory and practice of slavery.

In accomplishing their escape, Ellen’s is by far the more difficult task. Because it was very unusual for a woman to travel with a male slave, she has to assume the appearance and behavior of a white male for the couple’s ruse to succeed. The Crafts realize that Ellen...

(The entire section is 527 words.)