Governor pardons man who helped slaves escape Ocea Thomas poses for a portrait with a picture of her ancestor Samuel Burris Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Governor pardons man who helped slaves escape
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Exactly 168 years after he was convicted, a black man who lost his own freedom to help others escape slavery was posthumously pardoned by Delaware's governor.
 
Samuel D. Burris, a free black man, was found guilty in 1847 of helping slaves in central Delaware escape on the Underground Railroad. As his punishment, Burris was sentenced to 10 months in prison and to be sold into servitude himself for 14 years. He was saved from slavery by abolitionists who purchased him for $500 in gold and rushed him to Philadelphia to be reunited with his wife and children.
 
"Now, 168 years after he sat in jail for fighting against slavery, we in Delaware are correcting that injustice," Gov. Jack Markell said to the applause of a standing-room only crowd at the Old State House in Dover, where Burris was tried. "I pardon Samuel Burris for the crimes that he was convicted of."
 
Several of Burris's descendants were on hand Nov. 2 for the ceremony, including Ocea Thomas of Atlanta and Pastor Ralph D. Smith of Dover.
 
Thomas said she hoped that the ceremony might lead to similar pardons for other 19th-century abolitionists.
 
"I think it is supporting the fact that actually what he did wasn't really wrong. Maybe it will be something that will spread to other states," she said.
 
Smith said Burris put himself and his family in danger in order to help others.
 
"It did not stop him from doing what he thought was right," Smith said in his invocation as shouts of "Amen!" filled the room.
 
Markell called Burris a hero for risking his own liberty in the fight to eradicate slavery.
 
"His sentence was harsh," Markell noted. "Prior to that sentence, he was a free man. But he was not content simply to secure his own freedom. He risked his life to ensure that others would be free as well."
 
In addition to the pardon, Burris is being honored with a roadside historical marker that was erected near his home in central Delaware.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why was it so important to pardon Burris, so many years after he died?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (33)
  • kbeatty-cel
    11/11/2015 - 10:02 a.m.

    The lead is a good way to catch the readers attention. The article is definitely meaningful. Now that it is published and so much is happening for Burris, it can be encouraging to people all over the country. Articles from real life occasions like this one are a great way to expand to inspire other people. The article gave background history too that allows a reader to understand why Burris was pardoned.

  • tylerl-day
    11/13/2015 - 03:17 p.m.

    Should people who were sentenced for other "crimes" that aren't really all that wrong be pardoned? For example, marijuana charges. Most cases are non violent and are for small amounts. Should we be throwing young kids with a small amount of a plant into the back of a cop car?

  • jordynd-day
    11/14/2015 - 12:51 a.m.

    I get that this is a very nice thing to do, but was it necessary? Who was really that upset by this years and years later? I see the message it's trying to send, but there are a lot of problems we have today that could be addressed instead of an almost 200 year old case. Race is still very much a problem today, but we have other ways of making a statement. In my opinion, it seems like a waste of time. I'm sure my opinion is very unpopular, but is it really? A lot of people are too scared to speak their mind. Also, I believe that people are more sensitive to things today than they were years ago.

  • meganm-lam
    11/18/2015 - 09:24 a.m.

    It is important to pardon Burris even after he died, to prove that he did the right thing in his situation, and it honors his work, helping abolish slavery.

  • raphaelr-lam
    11/18/2015 - 10:38 a.m.

    It was important to pardon Burris even after he died to show that what he fought against was wrong and that the state of Delaware is fixing an ancient wrong. One thing I don't understand is why didn't this happen after the Civil War?

  • kalebs1-lam
    11/18/2015 - 02:22 p.m.

    I don't think he should have been punished for doing something that was not wrong.

  • julianc-bag
    11/18/2015 - 05:28 p.m.

    In loving memory of a once great man who helped some slaves be let free.

  • laurenc-bag
    11/19/2015 - 07:50 p.m.

    I think that it was important to pardon Burris of his "crimes" because there wasn't any justice for him or his family back then, and he remained unnoticed for a while so that's why I think it was important for him to be pardoned right away, especially because now days everyone has equal rights. If I had a chance to write a quote for his tombstone it would be,"Selfless, brave,and inspiring until his last breath."

  • coled-fel
    11/20/2015 - 02:27 p.m.

    CTQ: It's so important because the crimes that he committed were the right thing to do in that case.

  • johnj-fel
    11/20/2015 - 02:28 p.m.

    It is important to pardon Burris even 168 years after the fact because it was an injustice and it is respectful to do so.

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