The Society's seal and three photographs

African Lives in Northern England

Ellen and William Craft

Picture credit; Ellen Craft; The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom, Wilbur Henry Siebert, Albert Bushnell, (Macmillan, 1898), p. 162, via Wikimedia Commons

Ellen and William Craft escaped from slavery in Georgia in 1848, with Ellen dressed as a man to avoid detection. They came to England in 1850 to avoid recapture. Their written account, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, (1860) is available online and was republished as a paperback in 2012. They also have a Wikipedia page.

 A founder of the London Emancipation Committee, William Craft was respected in Radical circles and a practised debater. He visited Newcastle as a speaker a number of times in the 1860s to speak at anti-slavery meetings. His most important appearance, however, was at the Newcastle Conference of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1863. To quote Nigel Todd (1987)

two 'experts' turned out to be Confederate sympathisers, anxious to assert that black people were not really human beings. They might have got away virtually unchallenged but for the skill of William Craft.

....he brushed aside attempts by the British Association hierarchy to prevent him from speaking in the 'ethnology' session, carefully and humorously destroyed the arguments of the two Confederate 'experts' , and told a Fellow of the Royal Society that when 'blacks had equal opportunities with the whites they had shown that they possessed considerable intellectual ability.'

The Newcastle Daily Chronicle (31 August 1863, p 2) promoted him as the star of the occasion, and instructed the two Confederates  'not to try it on in Newcastle where a Negro is treated as a man and a brother.'

The Crats returned to the US in 1868, after the abolition of slavery in the States, and opened a children's school in Georgia. There is a plaque to them on the wall of Craft Court in Hammersmith, and in September 2018, at the village of Ockham in Surrey, where they found refuge, a sign commemorating their escape was unveiled at an event attended by their great-great-grandson Christopher Clark and other descendants.

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In the future, don’t forget your past