Lynn: Desperate people with armed men intent on their capture, an entire town racing to their rescue, facing down the villains and risking their very lives for what is right. It sounds like the plot for a terrific action movie but this is the true story being told in The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery (Bloomsbury/Walker 2013). In 1856, three slaves made a desperate escape across the iced-over Ohio River and, aided by many kind people along the way, made it to the Canadian border. Conditions on the lake prevented two of them from crossing over so they returned to Oberlin, Ohio to wait. Oberlin was a bastion of resistance to slavery and at least 400 former slaves lived in the town and the two friends decided to stay. Then in 1858 slave catchers arrived and captured one of them, John Price, and took him to a near-by town. The people of Oberlin sprang into action and jammed the road heading to John’s rescue. Professors, students, farmers, shop-keepers, former slaves, black and white, they risked their lives and liberty facing these armed slave hunters. The Fugitive Slave Law was in effect so they were defying the law as well. In an amazing show-down, the townspeople prevailed and Price was freed from his captors and hidden away in Oberlin. 37 men of the town were tried by the US and jailed for 3 months and on the “Rescuers” release the town celebrated and pledged that no fugitive slave would ever be taken from Oberlin.
What a story!! Judith and Dennis Fradin tell it wonderfully with all the breathless suspense and admiration this inspiring story deserves. Young readers will be captivated and awed to learn that this is no movie plot but a true story. Who could ever think history is dull? I love the photograph of the Rescuers at the end and Eric Velasquez’s cinematic illustrations but I’ll stop and leave Cindy something to say.
Cindy: The first year I served on YALSA’s then Best Books for Young Adults committee, Dennis Brindell Fradin’s book Bound for the North Star: True Stories of Fugitive Slaves (Clarion 2000) was one of our nominations. I was riveted by the tales of danger and heroics, both on the part of the fugitives and those who helped them along the way. One of the chapters was about the Oberlin-Wellington rescue. Seeing that event portrayed as a picture book by this talented trio is very welcome. For me, the suck-in-your-breath moment here was when I turned the page and saw the line of Oberlin residents, shoulder to shoulder ready to stand strong against the inhumanity of slavery as they assembled to go rescue Price. It’s a scene that could be taken straight out of a spaghetti western with a scene of vigilante justice, but knowing that these men were on the side of good makes the scene so powerful. This is a picture book that will be most welcome in middle school (in a teacher-led activity) but older elementary students will be moved by it as well.
Common Core Connections:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.3 Describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.
The Price of Freedom has a wonderful cinematic quality. Discuss this aspect with students and ask them to imagine that they are screenwriters, converting this book to a movie. Put them into small groups and ask each group to list the most important “scenes” for the script. Ask them to identify the main characters for their scenes and whether the characters are active or passive in each scene and if they change from the beginning to the end of the “script.”
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.9 Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.
Read Chapter Eight, “The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue of John Price,” in Dennis Fradin’s book, Bound for the North Star: True Stories of Fugitive Slaves (Clarion 2000). Ask students to compare and contrast the way information is presented in the texts in the two books.