We have heard much about violence against blacks and violence against policemen. We need to hear about the brave people who give their lives selflessly for the sake of justice. In the current climate of racial tension, I am featuring heroes of racial reconciliation who come straight from the pages of my novel for kids, Dark Enough to See the Stars.
As I researched the Underground Railroad for my story of a slave boy who runs away, I found many brave people who stood for racial equality at a time when it was dangerous to do so. Dr. William Rutherford and other members of his prominent family risked their careers, families, and lives to help slaves escape on the Underground Railroad in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He was a vice president of the Harrisburg Anti-Slavery Society and arranged for abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass to speak in Harrisburg.
Dr. Rutherford was born November 23, 1805 in Swatara township, Dauphin County, PA. He and his family helped slaves escape to the north for fifty years until his death in 1873. His home in Paxtang, PA was the main Underground Railroad station in the Paxtang Valley. A large locust tree stood at the entrance to his property. It was the only tree of its kind between Harrisburg and Hummelstown, and served until 1857as a clear signpost for slaves seeking to find his house.
Abraham Lincoln Defends a Slave Owner
Dr. Rutherford and his brother Hiram, who was also a doctor, traveled from Paxtang to East Central Illinois. While there, some black slaves from a farm near Newman, Illinois asked Hiram for help, knowing he was an abolitionist. The farmer, Robert Matson, filed a lawsuit against Hiram and a local man known for harboring slaves, Gideon Matthew Ashmore. Matson’s lawyer was none other than Abraham Lincoln! How ironic that the man who would become known as the “Great Emancipator” would defend a slave owner in his early years as an attorney. Abraham Lincoln lost the case and the former slaves were set free.