Friday, September 25, 2015

Steven Lubet's "The 'Colored Hero' of Harper's Ferry"

Steven Lubet is the Williams Memorial Professor of Law and Director, Bartlit Center for Trial Strategy at Northwestern University School of Law. His books include Fugitive Justice: Runaways, Rescuers, and Slavery on Trial.

Lubet applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The "Colored Hero" of Harper's Ferry: John Anthony Copeland and the War against Slavery, and reported the following:
African-American resistance to slavery took three forms: flight from the slave states, rescue and support for fugitives, and eventually armed resistance. John Anthony Copeland was one of the few people who engaged in all three. As a child, he fled North Carolina with his parents, eventually settling in Oberlin, Ohio. As a young man, he was one of the leaders of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, in which a fugitive was wrested from the grasp of slave hunters. And of course, he joined John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, in the failed attempt to free the slaves of Virginia by force.

Page 99 of The “Colored Hero” of Harper’s Ferry: John Anthony Copeland and the War against Slavery falls at the end of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue in late 1858, when the fugitive John Price, freed only hours earlier from the clutches of slave catchers, was hidden in the home of a conservative college professor. It was impossible for the runaway to remain in Oberlin, so someone had to be recruited to escort him to freedom in Canada. The logical candidate was John Anthony Copeland, who had shown great courage in confronting the forces of slavery. Not only had he led the charge against Price’s kidnappers, but several months earlier he had beaten a deputy U.S. marshal to the ground, as a warning to all slave hunters in Oberlin.

Copeland accepted the mission with the zeal of a dedicated abolitionist, accompanying Price to the African-American community of Chatham, in what is now Ontario. John Brown had been in Chatham only a few months earlier, where he first solidified his plans to invade Virginia. Several Oberlin expatriates had been delegates to Brown’s Chatham Convention, and they would have provided Copeland with his first opportunity to learn about John Brown’s provisional army of liberation.

Brown himself had great admiration for the black men of Oberlin, whom he considered among the vanguard in resistance to slavery. By the middle of the following year, he had contacted John Anthony Copeland and his relative Lewis Sheridan Leary, who became two of only five African Americans who joined the battle of Harper’s Ferry. “Colored Hero” tells the rest of the story, including Copeland’s role in the fighting and his eventual capture and trial at the hands of Virginia’s slaveholders.
Learn more about The "Colored Hero" of Harper's Ferry at the Cambridge University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Fugitive Justice: Runaways, Rescuers, and Slavery on Trial.

--Marshal Zeringue