Wednesday, February 29, 2012

James Bradley paid the actual price of freedom

James reads and I consult my notes in Covington KY
It was $700.

The statue of James Bradley, honoring anti-slavery activity in Kentucky, is one of several statues along the scenic Covington Kentucky Riverwalk portraying persons having a strong association with the Ohio River and its history.

In Bradley's autobiographical letter, he was about 3 years old “when the soul-destroyers tore me from my mother’s arms, somewhere in Africa, far back from the sea”.

Some time around 1819, he was taken to a plantation in South Carolina where he was given his name James Bradley after the surname of the man who purchased him. He recalls being treated physically well there, however later in his own words he wrote, "...from the time I was fourteen years old, I used to think a great deal about freedom. It was my heart’s desire; I could not keep it out of my mind. Many a sleepless night I have spent in tears, because I was a slave. I looked back on all I had suffered – and when I looked ahead, all was dark and hopeless bondage."
After many years he managed to earn $700, about $15,000 in today's money, by sacrificing precious sleep to do extra work on the plantation and finally bought his freedom in 1833. He headed for the closest free state which was Ohio, and crossed the Ohio River near this statue.

Lane Seminary was in Cincinnati's Walnut Hills
In 1834, Bradley learned of Lane Seminary which was run by the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe who later raised US awareness of the plight of slaves in her 1852 book Uncle Tom's Cabin. Bradley was admitted to the school and was the only black person admitted to an American institution of higher learning before the Civil War. He participated in the highly publicized Lane Seminary Debates regarding the cruelty and immorality of slavery which helped shift students and many Americans toward that point of view.

Not much is known of James Bradley after he left the school. Nothing more is written about him. I hope he at least lived to see the day decades later when the end of the US Civil War finally began the process to free his people from, in his words, "the soul destroyers" and "hopeless bondage" of slavery.

The bronze statue to honor him was made and installed in 1988 by sculptor George Danhires as part of Cincinnati's bicentenial.

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