"Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" Book Feature
This book feature by Gregory Stanford appeared in the "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" on May 12, 2007
Detailing the Joshua Glover saga
What a thrilling tale of yesteryear the Joshua Glover saga is.
It's about his flight from hell - that is, from slavery in St. Louis to freedom in Racine. It's about his fiendish recapture, his liberation by a throng of God-fearing Wisconsin residents in downtown Milwaukee and his flight to a new Promised Land in Canada. It's about legal battles that culminated with a historic standoff between the top courts of the state and the nation.
A new book, "Finding Freedom: The Untold Story of Joshua Glover, Runaway Slave," captures this drama. The authors are historian Ruby West Jackson and forensic psychologist Walter McDonald, both of Wisconsin.
The book connects a whole bunch of dots that make the Glover saga more understandable.
These days, amid the blather of talk radio - where the loudest voices are regularly putting down black people and progressive ideas, as if yearning for the conservative mores of the 19th century - it's easy to forget those mores were actually progressive in Wisconsin.
Credit the Easterners who settled here as part of America's Westward Ho movement and who brought with them abolitionist sentiment.
One of them was Sherman Booth, a Milwaukee newspaper editor and a Yale Law School grad who had helped the Africans aboard the slave ship "Amistad" learn English so they could defend themselves in court. The Africans had been the cargo, but the cargo rebelled and captured the ship.
Led by Booth, thousands of residents from Milwaukee and Racine gathered on March 11, 1854, at Courthouse Square, now Cathedral Square, and stormed the jail holding Glover and freed him.
The authors tie that incident to the founding of the Republican Party a few months later in Ripon, saying that "the events centering around and subsequent to his (Glover's) capture were powerful catalysts to its creation."
True, with the party's archconservative message and anti-black edge today, it's tough to remember that the GOP started out progressive and that its radical wing, which may have been strongest in Wisconsin, even advocated full rights for black people.
The authors filled in some big blanks in the Glover saga with facts painstakingly unearthed in a dozen years of research.
A prize finding, Jackson says in an interview, was a meeting that took place among the colored citizens of Milwaukee in 1850, in which they vowed to defy the federal Fugitive Slave Act, which required the return of runaway slaves to their masters, by rescuing recaptured slaves by any available means.
In the traditional telling, Glover emerged in Racine, where he worked a couple of years before a U.S. marshal apprehended him. And after his rescue, he was spirited off to Waukesha, where he took the Underground Railroad - a series of safe houses - to Canada.
The authors located where Glover settled down in Canada. They found a Joshua Glover in an 1871 Canadian census in Etobicoke, about 10 miles west of Toronto, McDonald recalls in an interview.
They stumbled onto a local researcher who was pulling on the other end of the rope of Glover's life. She was documenting the fugitive slaves who settled in the area. She had the name of Joshua Glover, but didn't know whence he came.
The book is part of a project to commemorate the Glover saga with a monument at Cathedral Square, which the National Park Service has designated an official site on the Underground Railroad.
This piece of history, when the citizenry struck a blow for human rights, deserves to be preserved to inspire the state to draw from its progressive roots.