Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Road to Dawn: Josiah Henson and the Story That Sparked the Civil War Hardcover – May 15, 2018 by Jared A. Brock (Public Affairs)

Josiah Henson, who escaped from slavery and lived well past the Civil War, was an amazing historical figure who is barely known today. By unearthing Henson's story and examining it retrospectively from the vantage point of the present, this author has crafted a riveting account that should revive Henson's story. One hopes that the publication of this book will get Henson the recognition he deserves and that Josiah Henson will join Henrietta Lacks in the pantheon of previously little known African American figures who unwittingly made important contributions to American history and who are finally getting the recognition they have earned --- through thoroughly researched and compellingly written books.

Henson was born a slave in Maryland in the late 1700's. He was committed to acquiring his freedom from an early age, and first tried to work "within the system" by purchasing freedom for himself and his family from his owner. Henson experienced and witnessed many of the horrors of slavery and was exploited and tricked by his owner, to whom he remained unfailingly loyal. Ultimately, escape from Kentucky (slave) to Ohio (free) and then to Canada became the only option, and Henson and his family made the difficult and dangerous journey in the 1830.

In this book, the reader relives the perils and difficulties of the Henson family's escape, and the challenges they faced once they reached Canada. In the course of this book, the reader learns about many things, including the Underground Railroad (not actually in existence when Henson fled the slave owners), the complexities and ever changing landscape of fugitive slave laws, and the ultimate decency and commitment to justice of Josiah Henson.

Henson and his family settled in what is now Southern Ontario (south of Detroit). At the time of his arrival, a growing population of people who had escaped slavery in the U.S. was forming in Canada, and that population ultimately became quite sizable, because only in Canada were former slaves truly protected from recapture. Henson spent his whole life fighting the institution of slavery and trying to help, educate, feed and house those who had escaped to Canada. He became a preacher, an orator, and an advocate for abolition. Along the way he met Harriet Beecher Stowe, to whom he told his history (which she used in creating the tale of and character of Uncle Tom), and also, late in his life, Queen Victoria (who invited him to Windsor Castle for a chat!). Henson revered the Queen because her country (Canada) had provided a safe haven and sanctuary for former slaves.

This book provides a sweeping summary of events surrounding the crusade for abolition, the infighting among groups working toward the same goals, and the role of the press. [When Uncle Tom's Cabin was published and quickly became a best seller, supporters of slavery claimed that it contained what we would call today "fake news"].

By unearthing Henson's story and examining it retrospectively from the vantage point of the present, this author has crafted a riveting account which he hopes, as do I, will revive Henson's name and importance.

I started the book yesterday and finished it today. The prose is easy to read, and the content important and fascinating. Highly Recommend.

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