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 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?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (33)
  • aliviab-ste
    11/10/2015 - 01:05 p.m.

    I think it is extremely important that we give pardon to the people who assisted slaves in escaping. They were a huge part of what it took to get slavery abolitionist and they should not be forever marked as criminals in our records for doing the right thing.

  • TehyaWhite-Ste
    11/10/2015 - 02:30 p.m.

    Even though he was already dead and he couldn't be here to see his pardon, his family could. It was important to right their wrongs, no matter how many years had passed.

  • Jason0421-YYCA
    11/10/2015 - 09:07 p.m.

    I think that it is amazing for Samuel D. Burris to have been able to help slaves in central Delaware escape on the Underground Railroad. I think that Samuel D. Burris should be able to have something more amazing then a roadside historical marker. But being able to have that is still amazing.

  • John0724-YYCA
    11/10/2015 - 09:07 p.m.

    I think that this man who was black is a very good man because he freed so many people from slavery and risked his own life. I think that this man was a very thoughtful man because since he freed them he spent ten months in prison and was in slavery for fifteen years.

  • william1108-yyca
    11/10/2015 - 09:10 p.m.

    WOW! A man who pardoned to free slave is amazing. I wish that I could see a person free some slaves. Maybe next time I will search it online and then videos come out and then I will see them.

  • annabel1226-yyca
    11/10/2015 - 10:17 p.m.

    I wish I could be like Burris. I want to be like Burris because I want people to honor me. I hope one day I could help others and get the reward like that. Wow, people purchased him for $500 in gold. That is all lot of money. It is a good thing that he reunited with his families. I think it is good that there isn't anymore slaves. If there were we will be really fighting all lot to America. I wish I could really be awarded like Burris. Burris must had a lot of hard life because he was a slave. If there weren't slave it will be really peaceful.

  • collinf-2-bar
    11/10/2015 - 10:38 p.m.

    It was so important to pardon Burris, even though he died so many years ago, because it can influence other cases like this to happen."Thomas said she hoped that the ceremony might lead to similar pardons for other 19th-century abolitionists."

    I was surprised that other people paid $500 to free him.

  • hudsonh-ver
    11/12/2015 - 08:31 a.m.

    Will it really matter now that they pardoned him 168 years after he was alive, what difference will it make.

  • rakimw-ver
    11/12/2015 - 08:37 a.m.

    can the government really give pardons to people who are already dead. I don't really see the need to pardon people who have already served there time and died.

  • brandons-wes
    11/12/2015 - 09:18 a.m.

    It was important to pardon Burris because the governor was trying to honor the man that tried to eradicate slavery

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