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A SKIT - THORTON AND RUTH BLACKBURN
Good morning boys and girls. This morning I am going to take your class on an adventure. Together we are going to become time travelers going back to a very important moment in our city’s history. It is June 14, 1833. Some of you will become television reporters reporting moment by moment about this historic event to your classmates. Others will become actual participants in this ongoing drama.
Channel 1 news
June 14, 1833
This is your Channel 1 anchor ….. Sheriff Wilson just announced that he has arrested Thorton and Ruth Blackburn two of the most respected members of Detroit’s black community. We are sending our reporter to investigate further.
Our reporter has arrived at the jail and is waiting to interview the sheriff.
Reporter ….. Sheriff Wilson, most Detroiters are shocked at the arrest of the Blackburns. Can you tell me what crime this highly regarded couple is accused of committing?
Sheriff Wilson ….. Certainly. Most people don’t know about the Fugitive Slave Law that Congress passed way back in 1793. That law allows slave owners or their representatives the right to arrest runaway slaves living anywhere in the United States. Under this law we have to send these fugitives back to their lawful owners. Today one of these slave hunters identified Ruth and Thorton Blackburn as fugitive slaves from Louisville Kentucky.
Reporter ….. Sheriff can I interview the Blackburns?
Sheriff Wilson ….. I will let you into Mr. Blackburn’s cell.
Reporter ….. Mr. Blackburn will you tell me your story.
Thorton Blackburn ….. Yes. It is true that my wife and I were slaves in Louisville Kentucky. Back in the summer of 1831 I heard that that Ruthie was about to be sold away from me. I love my wife so much and she loves me. You cannot imagine the agony we were feeling at the idea that we might never see each other again. The only answer was to escape. I will not tell you how we escaped, but that summer we arrived in Detroit. We believed that we were now safe because we had heard that there was no slavery in Michigan. We did not know about the Fugitive Slave Law.
Reporter to Anchor ….. I am going outside because I can see that a very hostile black crowd is gathering outside the jail.
Crowd ….. (The entire class shouts into the microphone.) ….. We are not going to let the Blackburns be sent back to slavery.
JUNE 16 LOCAL NEWS
Channel 1 anchor ….. Here is an update on the Blackburn case. Sheriff Wilson has agreed to allow some of the women from Detroit’s First Baptist Church to visit Mrs. Blackburn. We will be sending a reporter down to the jail to interview the women after the visit is over.
Reporter ….. I am standing outside the jail. The women are just leaving. Ladies! May I ask you some questions about your visit with Ruth Blackburn?
To anchor ….. The women refuse to be interviewed. Some of them have actually pushed the microphone out of my hand as I tried to question them. From where I am standing, I can see two of Ruth Blackburn’s best friends, Mrs. French and Mrs. Lightfoot. They both are weeping profusely. They have covered their faces with handkerchiefs and they are being helped down the steps by their friends.
JUNE 17 MORNING NEWS
Channel 1 Anchor ….. Sheriff Wilson just announced the escape of Ruth Blackburn. Our reporter is standing in front of the jail ready to interview the Sheriff as soon as he leaves the building.
Reporter ….. Sheriff Wilson can you tell us more about the escape?
Sheriff ….. This morning when my deputy went to open Mrs. Blackburn’s jail cell he discovered that it was not Ruth Blackburn sitting in the cell, but her friend Mrs. French. Ruth Blackburn had escaped last night disguised as her friend Mrs. French. We believe she is already in Canada.
Reporter ….. Mr. Blackburn how do you feel about your wife’s escape?
Thorton Blackburn ….. I am thrilled that my wife has escaped the horror of being sent back to Kentucky as a slave.
Reporter ….. Have you been told that the authorities, because they want to make sure that you do not escape as well as your wife, have a ship waiting at the dock to send you back to Kentucky this very afternoon?
Thorton Blackburn ….. Well looking out of the window I see a lot of my friends milling around. We will see what will happens.
Reporter to Anchor ….. I better get outside and see what is happening.
Reporter to anchor ….. The entire block surrounding the jail area is filled with armed black men. One black man has planted himself on the steps. In his arms he is holding a huge club. I am going to try and interview him.
Reporter ….. Sir what are you planning to do?
Demonstrator ….. I swear by all that is holy, Thorton Blackburn will never be taken back to Kentucky.
Reporter ….. It is now just four o’clock and the door to the jailhouse is opening. I can see Thorton Blackburn being led down the steps, his arms and legs wrapped in chains so that he can barely walk. On either side of the prisoner deputy sheriffs are carrying him down the steps. I can see a carriage waiting on the street right in front of the jail. I have been told by one of the deputies that Blackburn is going to be driven directly to the city dock where a ship is waiting to carry him back to Kentucky.
Reporter to Anchor ….. Hold on! Something is happening on Gratiot road. It looks like at least two hundred angry men and women are getting ready to assault the jail. Unbelievably these demonstrators are being led by an elderly black woman. It’s not just a black crowd, sprinkled among the demonstrators are groups of whites who seem to be just as angry at the arrest of Thorton Blackburn as the black demonstrators.
Reporter ….. I see Sheriff Wilson trying to force Thorton Blackburn back inside the jail, but he is refusing to move. Someone in the crowd just tossed Blackburn a gun. Now I see Blackburn pointing the gun at Sheriff Wilson. Is he going to shoot the sheriff? No, Blackburn is lifting the pistol towards the sky. For a moment nobody is moving.
Reporter to Anchor ….. Sheriff Wilson is trying to wrest the gun from Blackburn. The crowd is roaring their anger. Now they are surging up the stairs. Someone, I can’t identify who it is, has just attacked the Sheriff and he seems to be unconscious. I see another group moving up the stairs. They have just lifted Thorton Blackburn into their arms. Now they are carrying him to a cart that has just appeared on the street in front of the jail. A handful of demonstrators are helping Blackburn, chains and all, into the cart. It is speeding away up Gratiot.
Reporter to Anchor ….. It looks to me that some of the sheriff’s deputies are trying to organize a posse to re arrest Blackburn. The question is will they succeed?
Reporter ….. I am going to try to interview one of the white demonstrators and find out what his reason is for joining the rescue attempt. Sir why are you here attacking the jail. Don’t you realize that you could be arrested and thrown in jail for rioting?
Demonstrator ….. I believe violence is justified in the face of the Fugitive Slave Law that would take law-abiding Michigan residents and condemn them to a life of slavery.
LOCAL EVENING NEWS JUNE 16
Channel 1 Anchor ….. The city is still in an uproar over the escape of Thorton Blackburn. The posse organized by law enforcement failed to re-capture Blackburn. It is believed that a vessel was waiting for Blackburn and some of his rescuers in one of the coves along the river. Authorities believe that they arrived in Canada shortly after the escape.
In other news, Sheriff Wilson has been seriously wounded.
Many black Detroiters have been arrested and charged as participants in the rescue of Blackburn.
Mayor Chapin told this reporter that he is sending a letter to Canadian officials demanding that the Blackburns be returned to Detroit for trial.
CHANNEL 1 NEWS UPDATE
SEPTEMBER 28 1833
Channel 1 Anchor ….. Mayor Chapin today received his answer from the Canadian government about the return of the Blackburns. The Canadian authorities told the mayor that because slavery has been outlawed in their country, therefore it is not a crime under Canadian law for a man to use any method necessary to flee slavery. The Blackburns are welcome emigrants to our country and will be protected by the Canadian government.
CHANNEL 1 NEWS FOLLOW UP REPORT
Reporter ….. This reporter has learned that since the letter from the Canadian government was made public, so many black Detroiters have packed up and left our city that only a handful of African Americans remain in Detroit.
Many Detroiters, both black and white were upset at what had happened to the Blackburns. This was the first time that they had seen how the Fugitive Slave Law affected people who were their friends and neighbors. When in 1837 Michigan became a state, the people ratified a constitution that abolished slavery in their new state.
Secondly they passed a series of laws that protected Michigan citizens from being seized by slave hunters. These laws were known as Personal Liberty Laws and they made it very difficult for southerners to recapture their slaves. Detroit became renowned all over the South as a great center of the Underground Railroad, the great gateway to freedom in Canada. Between 1836 and 1865 the Railroad helped over 5000 fugitives reached the safety of Canada.
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