Charles Henry Langston


were breaking the law by helping Price escape. The Fugitive Slave Law, established across the United States in 1850, made it a crime to hide or protect any ...

CHARLES HENRY LANGSTON LYNNE PESKOE-YANG

On the morning of May 12th, 1859, Charles Henry Langston was sentenced to a hundred-dollar fine and twenty days in jail. As a free-born Black man with money and a college degree, Langston had managed to fight for abolition for twenty years without trouble with the police. But when a federal law forced him to choose between his own safety and helping another man reach freedom, Langston knew what he had to do. Many months earlier, Langston had heard rumors that a young escapee named John Price had been captured in Wellington, Ohio, by a US Marshal who planned to return Price to the plantation of his former owner in Kentucky. Langston and a party of 36 other activists tried to negotiate for Price’s release, but were refused. Finally, they overwhelmed the Marshal, captured Price by force, and used the Underground Railroad to send him to Canada and a life of freedom. Although slavery was already illegal in Ohio, Langston and the other activists were breaking the law by helping Price escape. The Fugitive Slave Law, established across the United States in 1850, made it a crime to hide or protect any escaped slave on their way to freedom. It was for this reason that even white abolitionists had to help the escapees in secret as they made their way north - and for Black activists like Langston, the danger was even greater. Charles Langston knew the risks. He had been an important figure in the growing abolitionist movement in Ohio ever since he and his brother became the first two Black students at Oberlin College. He also knew that the publicity around the case would give him a chance to connect with abolitionists across the nation and keep the issue of slavery in the national news. The trial would end in a chance for Langston to give a closing statement - a speech in his own defense that could also help his message reach a wide audience. Langston spoke with honesty and passion, and his statement was reprinted by newspapers across the country as a rallying cry for the abolitionist cause. “I stand here to say that I will do all I can, for any man thus seized, and help, though the inevitable penalty of six months’ imprisonment and one thousand dollars fine for each offense hangs over me! We have a common humanity. You would do so; your manhood would require it; and no matter what the laws might be, you would honor yourself for doing it; your friends would honor you for doing it; your children to all generations would honor you for doing it; and every good and honest man would say, you had done right!” Charles Henry Langston

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