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
November 10, 2015
Exactly 168 years after he was convicted, a black man who lost his own freedom to help others escape slavery was pardoned after his death 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 he was to be sold into servitude himself for 14 years. He was saved from slavery by abolitionists. They purchased him for $500 in gold. And they took 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. It is 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. They included 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 eliminate 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. It 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?
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