Cassopolis mural honors freedom seekers. Depiction of 1847 Kentucky Raid draws many onlookers.
By TOM MOOR, Tribune Staff Writer
CASSOPOLIS — More than 150 years later, a group of slaves who risked their lives for freedom by leaving Kentucky for Cass County are being remembered. And they will be for decades to come for anyone traveling through downtown Cassopolis.
A large 25-by-75-foot mural, called Sanctuary and Deliverance, depicting the group of 12 slaves who left Boone and Kenton counties in Kentucky in the spring of 1847, was unveiled Saturday morning in downtown in front of dozens of onlookers.
The event is referred to as the Kentucky Raid and was conjunctive of the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes that brought slaves in search of freedom from the South to the northern states.
When this group of slaves arrived in Cass County, they were welcomed with open arms by Quakers living there, but their fight wasn't quite over.
Soon after, slave seekers from Kentucky came to Cass County and tried to take them back. After narrowly avoiding a physical conflict, the Kentuckians and the slaves instead went to the Cass County Courthouse, where a judge charged the slave owners with trespassing, kidnapping and assault, and allowed the now-free slaves to stay. Many of them eventually made their way to Canada.
The conflict, like many that were ensuing in the country around the same time, was a piece of the puzzle that would eventually lead to the Civil War and the freedom of all slaves. The important historical moment is a source of local pride.
"It's an important historical event that had national implications," said Deanda Johnson, regional coordinator for the National Underground Railroad. "You guys played a part in the starting of the Civil War."
The mural, which was started in the spring, was worked on by lead artist Ruth Andrews of Cassopolis. A $15,000 grant from the Michigan Humanities Council paid for the project. The Minority Coalition of Cass County also sponsored the event.
Andrews said the colorful mural — which was unveiled halfway through the ceremony as flashbulbs went off — is broken down into four scenes.
The first portrays three generations of slaves crossing the Ohio River at night, escaping the slave owners who had beaten at least one for attending church and threatened to take away their Easter celebration. The second scene shows the slaves settling into a cabin on Quaker land in Cass County, as the Kentucky raiders stormed into the home to challenge the family. One of the drawings is of a slave owner holding one of the slave's young children. "The Kentuckians tried to take them back," Johnson explained.
The third scene shows a mob, a mix of white farmers, Quakers and free blacks, approaching the Kentuckians. "But in Vandalia, they were stopped by a group of 100. It almost got into a physical altercation," Johnson said.
And the final scene is of the Cass County Courthouse, where the slaves were afforded their freedom.
Andrews said it was an honor to work on the mural. "It's been a humbling experience," she said. Johnson said the freedom seekers are "the reason for this history."
The celebration included singing by the Kentucky at Sunrise Community Choir, and a reading by the Cassopolis African American Club. The ceremony ended with a prayer and the singing of "Amazing Grace."
Alisea McLeod, the organizer of the event, said the project has been years on the drawing board, and was kick-started through the grants. "This is a day for celebration," McLeod said. "It's a small, but historically rich community. It will be further enriched by the mural."
Staff writer Tom Moor: