On a winter night in 1860, a northbound train pulled into Cincinnati and disgorged forty bedraggled colored women and children.
They were ending a journey of five hundred miles. They were refugees — not from slavery but from Arkansas. In 1859, the Arkansas legislature passed a law declaring that the state’s free Negroes — six hundred or so, compared with its 47,000 slaves — were potentially trouble and must leave.
Slave owners loathed abolitionists but saved a special emotion — call it dread — for their free Negroes. Arkansas was emptying its state attic of the dangerous debris that had collected there. If free Negroes remained in the state, they would be enslaved. Their deadline was January, 1860.
So hundreds of men, women and children, by foot, train, wagon, and boat, left the state in a sudden cold-weather trek, all headed in the same direction, all going North, an exodus not caused by famine or flood but by the hand of man.
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