Inspiring stories of courage in the face of injustice


  Inspiring stories of courage in the face of injustice

The noble sentiments of the Declaration of Independence are often invoked to demonstrate the value of American liberty. However, many people in this country never experience the benefits of those high ideals. Children who are sold into slavery, for instance, may find it hard to live by them. Yet they continue to hold on to hope.

Katherine Marsh is one such woman. She was abducted. imprisoned, and forced to endure the horrors of the South's institution of slavery for fourteen years. Despite the countless cruelties she faced, she never lost her sense of dignity and humanity. Her strength is in sharp contrast with those who were truly evil—the men who raped her, murdered her mother, or burned down her home—who were seldom punished for their crimes.

Throughout her ordeal Ms. Marsh continued to direct compassion and hope to other children rather than vengeance against the adults who had hurt them. She gave advice to her young friends, whom she knew would soon be sold just as she had been. In fact, some of those children were sold twice, ending up at the Beechwood brothels run by Henry and Alice Beasley.

Some of the girls at Beechwood told Ms. Marsh they "were afraid of Mr. Henry because he liked little girls so much." But she tried to comfort them, saying that it was important for them to "'be good and do well'" (5). Mr. Henry's attentions made her uncomfortable as well, but she never let on that she was even aware of his proclivities (or that his wife helped keep him supplied with children).

Ms. Marsh's story of courage and hope is told in Etienne Benson's book The Underground Railroad: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, & c . (1888). It is based on interviews with her after the Civil War. It is because of people like Ms. Marsh that I am inspired to get involved in efforts to end child trafficking today. The estimated  number of victims of human trafficking  in the United States may shock some readers—but it is still an improvement over the nearly  four million  victims estimated by the  United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime .
And the  problem is global  : A 2012 survey of child trafficking in ten Asian countries identified 1,000 victims. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Many children who are trafficked every year are never reported. So much more needs to be done to bring an end to this vile form of slavery.

If we really want to honor Katherine Marsh and other victims like her, we must work together—in our neighborhoods and communities—to stop human trafficking now and forever. There is hope for those who trade freedom for captivity; there is hope for us all!
Ms. Marsh escaped slavery after picking cotton in Alabama for three years and had reached Ohio before she was recaptured and returned to bondage. But she did not forget her friends in slavery, and several offered information about the Beasley plantations.

They told Ms. Marsh that "Mr. Henry" was a "'bad man'" who "had gone to Cincinnati, had married a white woman, and had children by her." She even recognized some of the girls he used as prostitutes from the Baltimore Fair (5). Before long she met a girl whom Mr. Henry had selected from one of his plantations. The girl said that he kept her "locked up all day"; when asked why, she replied, "'so I won't run away'" (6).

Ms. Marsh knew this girl was lying; Mr. Henry had her infant son with him so that she would not speak against him. But it was too late to stop him from taking the girl away; she was sold to a "Mr. Gunderson." Ms. Marsh discovered that Mr. Henry and his wife were living in Cincinnati at the time, searching for "little white girls" (8).

A man named John Elliot, who intended to sue Henry Beasley for damages, knew enough about the Beasleys to want to place them on a railroad map of the United States . The map is featured in the book's seven black-and-white photographs.

Some of Ms. Marsh's story may be found in the book Underground Railroad: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters & c  (1888). The Underground Railroad was opened in 1854 for slaves who wanted to get away—or for whites who wanted to help them cross state lines. It operated through much of Kansas , Nebraska , and Missouri .
The railroad consisted of secret routes by which slaves were "lodged and fed" by sympathetic whites along their journey south or west (13). In order to keep its operations a secret, it discouraged all communication with its operators.

There were many people who helped to help runaway slaves escape through the Underground Railroad. Ms. Marsh never met them, but she never stopped trying to find her friends. She wrote to several newspapers from as far away as Richmond, Virginia , and South Carolina , and even a reporter for Harper's Weekly published a short story named "A Strange Escape" about her experiences.   
In the end, she escaped slavery with one slave, a young woman she had helped raise, who had been sold to Mr. Gunderson (14). She died in Philadelphia in 1884 at the age of fifty-two. Her obituary stated that she was "a Christian lady" who "lived quietly and in peace" (15).
 Feature photo by S. R. Grey, public domain courtesy of Wikimedia Commons  (Operation Underground Railroad)
Copyright © 2012 by Skylar Browning All rights reserved. Text and photographs may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.
A longer version of this article was published on the author's blog, Between the Lines .
Benson, E. (n.d.). The underground railroad: A record of facts, authentic narratives, letters & c . New York , N.Y.: DeWitt & Davenport .
Sibley, A. M., Eddy , J., & Welch , S. D., Eds . (1939). Underground railroad for fugitive slaves . Boston , MA: John Wilson & Son . Retrieved from
Sibley, A. M., Eddy, J., & Welch, S. D., Eds . (1939). Under ground railroad for fugitive slaves . Boston , MA: John Wilson & Son . Retrieved from
Stanton-Saloma, C., Slaton, L. M., Rodell, E., & Wysong, S. E., Eds . (1988).

Conclusion:   The position of the slave-holder towards his slaves is at variance with the first principles of the social compact, and sacredly obligatory . The extent to which these principles are violated by him depends upon the arbitrary will of the master, and his own sense of right and wrong. As a rule, he is not swayed much by abstract considerations —he makes no very delicate discriminations between right and wrong–his palm is frequently moistened by no tearful eye–no agonizing solicitude for his brethren in bonds.

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