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A black man who helped many slaves reach freedom receives a pardon after 168 years

Ian Harvey

samuel-burrisThe stains of slavery can still be seen on American history, though the young nation claims to have fully recovered from the traumatic climate of slavery, however there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done.

A free black man who risked his life and his family’s freedom to help free scores of slaves working on an underground railroad has been granted official pardon. To some this may sound too little too late, but for many this gesture still has the potential to influence thinking considering a subtle surge of racial tension in some parts of the country. After police brutality cases and killing of black teens by the police has created an environment of hatred between communities who simply want to live alongside each other in harmony.

Samuel Burris fully comprehended the dangers he was evoking by indulging in the ‘dangerous’ matter of freeing slaves, but nothing could deter him from his determination of bringing freedom to the people. Burris was caught in 1847 while he was trying to help Maria Mathews to escape a miserable life as a slave in Delaware. Believe it or not, back in the days, enticing people for freedom was a crime one deemed so hideous that it could send one to jail for life. Burris was convicted of enticing slaves to freedom, and was so ‘generously’ sentenced to seven years of servitude (another form of slavery). Burris was then put to auction and was sold to the highest bidder in a slave auction place at Old State House in Dover, Delaware.

After almost 168 years since his trial, Samuel Burris has finally received official pardon from state governor Mr. Jack Markell. The Governor called Burris a man of extraordinary bravery, and said that although state offers posthumous pardon very rarely, but in case of Burris it was the right thing to do. He added that this was a great opportunity to try to right a wrong done in the past, and to honour the man whose steadfastness must be an example for all those who stand for human rights and freedom.

The campaign for Burris’ pardon was led by Ocea Thomas of Atlanta and Robert Seeley. Samuel Burris was the brother of great-great grandmother of Thomas, and one of Seeley’s ancestors who was a white Quaker helped some 2,700 slaves to freedom. Thomas expressed immense gratitude upon the announcement of pardon for Burris from the same building where he was once auctioned off to serve as a slave. (Mail Online)

The mere sentence was never enough to keep Burris from his noble motives, he famously wrote letter to the Liberator a famous abolitionist newspaper in which he called slavery inhumane and called the sympathizers of slavery as unmerciful people. He was later bought in another auction, by an abolitionist activist who travelled to south after raising $500 for Burris’ freedom. Burris was eventually freed and was returned to his wife and children, however soon after that he was back in south planning to free more slaves. Historians do not have exact figure of how many slaves Burris helped escape to freedom but numbers are significantly high. Burris dedicated his life for the cause of abolishing slavery and died in 1863, but not before listening to Abraham Lincoln announcing the ‘Emancipation Proclamation’ that federally declared all slaves in south as free human beings.