Just Run That Escape Plan By Me Again....
July 14, 2013 9:56 AM   Subscribe

"It's almost tragic that the most badass escaped slave story most people know is Django Unchained. Because in real life, not only did slaves frequently escape, but they often did it without help from free whites, and without murdering several hundred people. Instead, what they had was cleverness and the audacity to try ridiculous plans that by all rights should never have worked." [SLCracked but a decent effort]
posted by marienbad (25 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think the amazing part of Eliza Harris' flight to freedom isn't the ice-dancing, it's going back into slave country again and again to rescue others. The one is a lot more premeditated than the other; I know that my nerves couldn't have handled it.

Minus the ice floes, of course, Harriet Tubman also returned, to the same part of slave-holding Maryland to free remaining family and neighbors.

I wonder how many other badasses are out there like these ladies?
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 10:22 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anyone who considers a Quentin Tarantino movie as having any more connection to real life than a Marvel comic book movie needs to step away from the screen and spend some time with real human beings. This piece is something Cracked is doing well, and more frequently these days, not yet counterbalancing its more cringeworthy content, but getting closer... now if we can just wean them of the 'listicle' format, which they're only using half-heartedly, splitting a 5-item list into two pages.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:31 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's something darkly poetic about the Cracked-style hijinks treatment of human beings escaping from the horror of slavery. Hey, any medium that gets the story told and re-told is a mitzvah.

I'm embarrassed by my ignorance, but if a legally owned slave managed to set foot in Philadelphia were they suddenly magically free and safe? My US history memory on this topic is fuzzy, but I thought the slave legally remained property and there were bounty hunters and the like. No doubt it's all more complicated and changing than that. But Cracked gives the impression it was all easy once you got out of the slave states, and surely it wasn't that simple?

We've discussed Robert Smalls before.
posted by Nelson at 10:47 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


The fact that we have a large number of forts named after Confederate generals, many of whom were avowed racists and slavery supporters even outside of their actions against the US, and not one named after Robert Smalls, is a goddamn travesty of the highest order.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:14 AM on July 14, 2013 [19 favorites]


In any sane world, these people would be the heroes of action movies, not John Wayne et. al.
posted by lucien_reeve at 11:20 AM on July 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


Eliza was amazing! Harriet Tubman has always been one of my heroines, because of her extreme courage. Thanks for this post!

To answer a question, slaves were still property after reaching the North. It was just harder to retrieve them. If a slave REALLY wanted to never live in fear, Canada was the answer.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:28 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


If a slave REALLY wanted to never live in fear, Canada was the answer.

Well, sort of. They may have been free from slavery, but they weren't exactly made to feel particularly welcome by the locals.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:51 AM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm embarrassed by my ignorance, but if a legally owned slave managed to set foot in Philadelphia were they suddenly magically free and safe?
I'm also a little fuzzy, but there was the Fugitive Slave Clause in the constitution and the Fugitive Slave Act which both suggest that slave owners were allowed to send bounty hunters into free states to kidnap slaves. What seemed to be under legal contention was whether local law enforcement had any obligation to send them back to their "owners."
posted by RobotHero at 11:57 AM on July 14, 2013


Hey, any medium that gets the story told and re-told is a mitzvah

It's interesting you should say that, because in trying to reconcile the tragedy of the subject matter with the glib brose of Cracked-speak I asked myself if would be weird to read about Jews escaping from the SS in this same style (i.e., comparisons to wacky sitcoms, etc.) I do see the value of the story being retold, but I personally feel like the giggly treatment doesn't jibe with the level of human suffering we're talking about.

tl:dr: too soon
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:25 PM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


and without murdering several hundred people

More's the pity. History could stand to have a few more instances of slaves killing the shit out of their slavers and their filthy accomplices.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:40 PM on July 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


I can only recommend Tule, the Revolt.

“Tula, The Revolt” is an international English spoken feature length movie about the leader of the big slave uprising on the island of Curacao, a Dutch colony in 1795.

It was released earlier this week
posted by DreamerFi at 12:46 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Given current events, this CRACKED listicle is precisely what my bottoming out spirit needs.

I'm sick with a pretty awful summer cold (the one that's hitting Bay Area folks with a harsh two-week long cough) so today am missing my newfound (as of this year) churchmates (me not being particularly devout or Christian, go figure) and now my apartment has all this dust flying around!

This couldn't have come to my attention at a better time because now I'm considering mailing myself into a future with better times.

Thanks, marienbad.
posted by mistersquid at 2:03 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I asked myself if would be weird to read about Jews escaping from the SS in this same style

So how'd you like Inglorious Basterds?
posted by Nelson at 2:08 PM on July 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


What seemed to be under legal contention was whether local law enforcement had any obligation to send them back to their "owners."

This was cited by South Carolina (and other states) as a reason for secession. From the South Carolina articles of secession:

The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: "No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."

This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River.

The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States.

The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.



In other words, when free states deemed it within their rights to refuse to return escaped slaves to their owners, they violated their obligations under the constitution rendering it null and void and giving South Carolina the right to leave the Union. Which puts the lie to the idea of both "states rights" and "the Civil War was not about slavery" as put forth by neoconfederates today.
posted by TedW at 2:17 PM on July 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


The fact that we have a large number of forts named after Confederate generals, many of whom were avowed racists and slavery supporters even outside of their actions against the US, and not one named after Robert Smalls, is a goddamn travesty of the highest order.

The park outside of the Planned Parenthood in Atlanta is named after John C. Calhoun, Mr. "Slavery is not a necessary evil, it is a positive good" himself. Oh and Georgia still has segregated proms so I guess the travesties just keep coming.
posted by dubusadus at 2:31 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Re the Fugitive Slave Act, etc. my guess is that the reality on the ground made it such that it was better to at least TRY to escape if you had the chance. I mean, in order to bring you back, they had to find you first. Keep in mind this is a time before readily available photographs, and to an extent before most people carried any form of ID. As long as you could stay inconspicuous, you stood a chance of being OK.

Though I do think this is why a lot of the folklore around escaped slaves mentions Canada and further northern US states. I get the sense people wanted to get as far as possible, to minimize the chances of being caught.
posted by Sara C. at 3:09 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's interesting you should say that, because in trying to reconcile the tragedy of the subject matter with the glib brose of Cracked-speak I asked myself if would be weird to read about Jews escaping from the SS in this same style (i.e., comparisons to wacky sitcoms, etc.) I do see the value of the story being retold, but I personally feel like the giggly treatment doesn't jibe with the level of human suffering we're talking about.

You could put on some solemn music while you read it?
posted by Sebmojo at 3:15 PM on July 14, 2013


TedW: "This was cited by South Carolina (and other states) as a reason for secession. From the South Carolina articles of secession:

'The States of ... Illinois ... have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them.'

In other words, when free states deemed it within their rights to refuse to return escaped slaves to their owners, they violated their obligations under the constitution rendering it null and void and giving South Carolina the right to leave the Union. Which puts the lie to the idea of both "states rights" and "the Civil War was not about slavery" as put forth by neoconfederates today.
"

Wow! Illinois did something good? I mean, yeah, we are the "Land of Lincoln" and all, but it's not often you hear about the actual state doing anything really great.

Thanks for that, TedW. I was unaware of the above info.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 3:51 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


but it's not often you hear about the actual state doing anything really great.

Really, many Northern states had laws or at least de facto policies that generally supported a sort of nullification approach to slavery. That's the exact reason that there were so many "Fugitive Slave Acts" passed by Congress over half-a-century and why cases like Dred Scot reached the Supreme Court in the first place.

It's important to keep in mind that this sentiment wasn't all based in morality, though. The vast majority of most populations west of the Alleghenies were farmers, and people in industries supporting agriculture, and the feeling of farmers was that slavery was unfair competition -- thus the Free Soil movement, which was in opposition to slavery, but largely out of self-interest. The worry was that an expansion of slavery into newly settled areas would strangle the freeholder farmers working for themselves, sort of a precursor to more recent dichotomy of family farms vs. corporate farms.

In any case, the record of Northern states is quite mixed. Slavery apologists existed and supported the rights of slave-owners and profiteers from slavery-based business. Illinois tried and failed to amend its state constitution to de-grandfather the several hundred slaves who had been brought to the territory prior to statehood.

Nevertheless, despite being sparsely settled, Illinois sent the fourth largest contingent of troops to war for the Union (an incredible 15% of the population, possibly more than half of the healthy adult males).

Though I do think this is why a lot of the folklore around escaped slaves mentions Canada and further northern US states.

It was very true that freedmen with papers could live semi-securely in northern cities such as Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, but escaped slaves were much better off outside the jurisdiction of the US entirely. The Underground Railroad frequently led to Ontario, where Canadians welcomed them.
posted by dhartung at 4:53 PM on July 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Odd, since the book I read, Mark Ames' Going Postal, said most slaves didn't try and escape. But I suppose that that's only one book.

I want a movie about Bass Reeves, a runaway slave and lawman.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:37 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's interesting you should say that, because in trying to reconcile the tragedy of the subject matter with the glib brose of Cracked-speak I asked myself if would be weird to read about Jews escaping from the SS in this same style (i.e., comparisons to wacky sitcoms, etc.) I do see the value of the story being retold, but I personally feel like the giggly treatment doesn't jibe with the level of human suffering we're talking about.

I'm fairly sure I've seen Cracked articles about Schindler-figures, resistors against fascists, and the like. The Five Most Daring Escapes from the Nazis wouldn't be out of character.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:40 PM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've honestly learned so much about history from Cracked and Badass of the Week. I'm not exactly proud of it, but it's a way to relate history to a generation raised on action movies and the Internet.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:53 PM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


dd, since the book I read, Mark Ames' Going Postal, said most slaves didn't try and escape. But I suppose that that's only one book.

Most didn't, but there were over three million people in slavery at the time of the Civil War. That leaves a lot of people to make their way to freedom, and thousands upon thousands did (though there are obviously no exact records, many historians estimate 100,000 and some up to half a million escapees), even if "most" did not.
posted by Miko at 8:14 PM on July 14, 2013


Odd, since the book I read, Mark Ames' Going Postal, said most slaves didn't try and escape. But I suppose that that's only one book.

A lot doesn't mean "most." I mean, a lot more slaves tried to escape than popular history tends to indicate, but there were a LOT of slaves to escape. Geography made a hell of a difference, and i'd say most escapes came from these states. Maryland - lots of escaped slaves. Mississippi? Where is one to run? I mean, for a time escapees could run to Spanish Florida or Mexican Texas, but you know how that particular story ends. By the 1850s, though, slaves in the deepest south had severely restricted options for escape, to say the least.
posted by absalom at 11:33 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I want a movie about Bass Reeves, a runaway slave and lawman.

Was Bass Reeves — a former slave turned deputy U.S. marshal — the real Lone Ranger?
posted by homunculus at 2:43 PM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


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