Seven white guards ringed the courtroom. Two more stood at Shadrach Minkins’ side. His lawyer Robert Morris, a black member of the Boston Vigilance Committee, a group of abolitionists who helped runaway slaves like Minkins, talked softly to him. Five other white men, who were also abolitionists stood behind Morris. Shadrach appreciated their support but he knew it wouldn’t matter. His three months of freedom in Boston, Massachusetts were over; he would be dragged back to Norfolk, Virginia and his owner, John DeBree. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 had been passed a year earlier: if runaway slaves were tracked down in the free states, they had to be returned to their owners.
The guards started letting a few people at a time into the courtroom until it was packed with over a hundred and fifty black men and about fifty white men.
Morris went up with DeBree’s lawyer to speak to the judge.
“I need more time to prepare my client’s case,” Morris told the judge.
Debree’s lawyer protested. The judge agreed to give Morris a few more days. Then he ordered the courtroom cleared. Most of the white men hurried out. Not one black man moved.
“Clear the court!" the bailiff shouted.
No one moved.
The guards walked threateningly toward the black spectators, and they reluctantly got up to leave. The guard opened the courtroom door just wide enough for one man at a time to get out. Shadrach watched them leave. Morris was the last. When the door was opened for him, twenty black men and a good number of whites pushed into the courtroom.
The guards on either side of Shadrach pressed him close. The seven guards along the wall tried to move toward Shadrach, but the crowd moved more quickly and pressed them back. Two men hoisted Shadrach to his feet. “Take him out the side door,” someone shouted.
A guard’s voice echoed in Shadrach's ears as the crowd ran triumphantly out the side courtroom door, down the stairs, out into the street with their prize.
Five days later, on February 20, 1851, Shadrach arrived in Canada shepherded by various Underground Railroad conductors along the way. His rescue caused an uproar. Southerners demanded an investigation. Northern abolitionists insisted the Fugitive Slave Act was illegal. Eight men, including Morris were arrested, but the charges were dropped.
Eighteen months later Shadrach was married and running a barber shop in Montreal.
Admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1847,
Robert Morris may have been the first black male lawyer to file a lawsuit in the U.S.
Doreen Rappaport is known for her ground-breaking approach to multicultural history and stories for young readers. In her many award-winning books, she brings attention to not-yet-celebrated Americans, along with well-known figures. Her book Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is an Orbis Pictus Honor Book, Coretta Scott King Honor Book, Caldecott Honor Book for Illustration, and an ALA Notable Book. For more information, click here. And while you're on Doreen Rappaport's website, look at the list of her African-American History books.
MLA 8 Citation
Rappaport, Doreen. "Caught!" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 12 Feb. 2018,
Why is Black History Month celebrated in February?
The answer is really quite love-ly.
For Black people enslaved, a birthday was as hard to come by as justice. But, never one to be outdone by the “impossible,” Frederick Bailey wanted a birthday—and a birthday he was going to have. First, he'd have to find out when it was.
He’d heard that his father was the slave owner from whom he'd escaped, so he couldn't ask him. His mother, Harriet Bailey, had been sold away from him when he was only five, so he couldn't ask her. But, he could remember stories she'd told him before they’d been separated.
She said he was born on a Maryland plantation in the ‘teens. He chose the mid-teens, 1818, for his birth year. She always called him her “little valentine.” He chose Valentine’s Day for his birth date. With that, Frederick finally had the birthday he'd always wanted: February 14, 1818.
Then . . .
In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson wanted to solve a problem. For centuries, Americans were taught to believe that African Americans had “no history or culture.” Now that is, of course, impossible. Everyone inherits the history and culture of their family elders. But, this horrific idea was used to justify slavery and segregation by making Black people seem less than human.
Dr. Woodson had a better idea: he’d tell the truth. He would research and share the true history of Black people in countries throughout the world over.
To promote his idea, he created Negro History Week (now, Black History Month). He chose February in honor of two birthdays. Born on February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was the first American president to take action to end slavery. Born on February 14, 1818 Harriet Bailey’s “little Valentine's” became the noted Underground Railroad conductor, abolitionist, and publisher, Frederick Douglass. As a special adviser to President Lincoln, he proposed—and the president wrote and signed—the “Emancipation Proclamation”; ending slavery.
Such is the power of love.
We never know how we will remember what our parents say or what their words will mean to us when we need them most. Frederick's mother—an enslaved woman with so little to give—empowered her son for life with the gift of her enduring love.
For this love-ly reason, February is Black History Month.
Frederick Bailey's mother was sold to a new owner, leaving the 5-year-old behind. This was a common practice in the slavery era.
Abraham Lincoln's successful campaign to end slavery in the United States culminated in the Emancipation Declaration of 1863. Alexander Gardner via Wikimedia Commons
;In 1926, Carter G. Woodson (left) shown here as a young man, pioneered the celebration of "Negro History Week" during the second week in February, to coincide with marking the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (above) and Frederick Douglass (right). Black United Students and Black educators at Kent State University expanded the celebration to become Black History Month on February 1, 1970. Woodson Courtesy of the New River Gorge National River website, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, United States Government; Douglass via Wikimedia Commons.
Janus Adams has produced Steal Away-- a package of a book, an audio and a game about the Underground Railroad. You can learn more about her award-winning series of adventure and travel books, audios and games on her website called Back Pax Kids.
MLA 8 Citation
Adams, Janus. "Title tbd." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 28 Feb. 2018,
In the mid-nineteenth century, a young man named Allan Pinkerton fled Scotland with a warrant on his head for his work agitating for labor rights. In the United States, he continued to fight for social justice. Beginning in 1844, he worked for Chicago Abolitionist leaders and his home outside of Chicago was a stop on the Underground Railroad. He was a close friend and ardent supporter of John Brown, helping him get runaway slaves to Canada.
He was working as a barrel maker when he stumbled on a gang of counterfeiters. His handling of that incident began his career as a crime-solver, and in 1849, he was hired to be the first detective on the Chicago police force. Detective work was considered sleazy at that time—a way of profiting from other’s crimes. Pinkerton gave it a new meaning by making justice his mission. He created careful “detecting methods,” using psychology, logic, and clear thinking. These tools worked, and a year later, Pinkerton was able to set up his own company known as the North-Western Police Agency. This later became Pinkerton & Co. and then the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.
In October, 1856 Pinkerton hired Kate Warne as the first woman detective in the United States. He was so impressed with her skill that he hired many other women (fifty years before any police department in America had female personnel.)
While Pinkerton insisted that detectives must combine “considerable intellectual power and knowledge of human nature,” he discouraged them from pressuring confessions or taking statements from witnesses who were drunk. Above everything else, he valued the truth.
Pinkerton ran the new spy agency, the Secret Service, for President Lincoln during the Civil War the same way he'd run his detective agency. He honed the art of “spycraft” and trained his agents the same way for both jobs, detective and spy.
“The object of every investigation. . .is to come at the whole truth. . .There must be no endeavoring, therefore, to over-color or exaggerate anything against any particular individual, whatever the suspicion may be against him.”
Pinkerton was working on a national criminal database when he died, but he left behind the legacy of his intelligence agency and a series of popular books about his cases, the first “true crime” stories in America.
A retouched photograph of Pinkerton (left) with President Abraham Lincoln and Union Major General John A. McClernand on the Battlefield of Antietam, Maryland. Library of Congress
Pinkerton is shown on horseback on the Antietam Battlefield in 1862. Pinkerton served on several undercover missions as a Union soldier using the alias Major E.J. Allen. This counterintelligence work done by Pinkerton and his agents is comparable to the work done by today's U. S. Army Counterintelligence Special Agents in which Pinkerton's agency is considered an early predecessor. Library of Congress
Award-winning author Marissa Moss has written the first children’s book about Allan Pinkerton. Everyone knows the story of Abraham Lincoln, but few know anything about the spy who saved him! Pinkerton had a successful detective agency, but his greatest contribution was protecting Abraham Lincoln on the way to his 1861 inauguration. Though assassins attempted to murder Lincoln en route, Pinkerton foiled their plot and brought the president safely to the capital. The Eye That Never Sleeps is illustrated with a contemporary cartoon style and includes a bibliography and a timeline.
MLA 8 Citation
Moss, Marissa. "How to Go From Being Wanted by the Police to Working For Them."
Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 23 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/