Legal Ethics Forum: The Crime of Freeing Slaves
by Steve Lubet (author of John Brown's Spy)
The Crime of Freeing Slaves
On this day in 1859, the Commonwealth of Virginia executed Shields Green and John Anthony Copeland, two black men who had joined John Brown’s fateful attempt to free the slaves of the southern states. Although little noted in most history books, their sacrifice should be long remembered, even as our nation continues to struggle with slavery’s legacy of racism.
Shields Green was an escaped slave from South Carolina who had been introduced to Brown by Frederick Douglass. During the Harper’s Ferry raid – which began on Sunday, October 16 and lasted for three days – Green had been assigned to guard Brown’s white hostages, which drew the special ire of slave masters. One plantation owner railed at Green’s “impudence” in pointing a rifle at white men, and Virginia’s governor called Green a “coward,” although in fact he had declined an opportunity to escape and had instead remained bravely at Brown’s side until they were both captured by troops under the command of Col. Robert E. Lee....