Winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction
No one will ever know how many runaway slaves traveled the routes of the Underground Railroad. Only a handful of those who escaped ever revealed its secrets. I've Got a Home in Glory Land chronicles an unknown story of this clandestine and illegal system, the most important social justice movement of nineteenth-century America.
In 1831, a black man could be a slave when standing on the south bank and a free man on the north. On the day before Independence Day of that year, Thornton Blackburn waited wharfside in Louisville, Kentucky, with his bride, Lucie, who was about to be sold "down the river" to the brutal and sexually exploitative slave markets of the Deep South. This would essentially guarantee that husband and wife would never meet again. But Thornton and Lucie, clad in their finest holiday-making clothes, had devised a brilliantly audacious escape in broad daylight.
Pursued to Michigan, the couple was captured and sentenced to return to Kentucky in chains, but Detroit's black community rallied to their cause. The resultant Blackburn Riots of 1833 were the first racial uprising in the city's history. Thornton and Lucie were spirited across the river to Canada by sympathetic freedmen, but Michigan's governor demanded their extradition, and their masters, eager to make an example of them, were willing to spend far more than the former slaves' market value to return them to servitude. Canada's defense of the Blackburns set the tone for all future diplomatic relations with the United States over the thorny issue of the fugitive slave. The Blackburns settled in Toronto, but they never forgot those for whom emancipation was a distant and uncertain dream. Working with prominent abolitionists, Thornton and Lucie made their home a haven for runaways. Thornton would endanger his freedom one last time when he secretly returned to the United States to bring his mother—whom he had not seen in more than a dozen years—to liberty.
When the Blackburns passed away in the 1890s, they left no family to preserve their legacy. It was not until their small house, filled with artifacts that speak eloquently of their daily lives, was excavated that the truth of Thornton and Lucie's heroism was rediscovered. I've Got a Home in Glory Land is the result of decades of research by the author, who supervised the dig of the Blackburn site.