Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bad Math


1 African-American Male + 3 trigger-happy NYPD cops + 50 shots = "Not Guilty". Again.

(Cartoon by the brilliant Mikhaela B. Reid)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Ain't Supposed To Die A Natural Death


The New York Times:

3 Detectives Acquitted in Bell Shooting
Three detectives were found not guilty Friday on all charges in the shooting death of Sean Bell, who died in a hail of 50 police bullets outside a club in Jamaica, Queens, in November 2006. The verdict prompted calls for calm from the mayor, angry promises of protests by those speaking for the Bell family and expressions of relief by the detectives.
Detective Michael Oliver, who fired 31 bullets the night of the shooting and faced manslaughter charges, said Justice Arthur J. Cooperman had made a “fair and just decision.”

Justice Cooperman delivered the verdict in State Supreme Court at 9 a.m. Describing the evidence, he said it was reasonable for the detectives to fear that someone in the crowd that night carried a gun. He added that many of the prosecution’s witnesses, including Mr. Bell’s friends and the two wounded victims, were simply not believable. “At times, the testimony of those witnesses just didn’t make sense,” the judge said.

Several supporters of Mr. Bell stormed out of the courtroom, and a few small scuffles followed outside the courthouse. By midafternoon, there were no suggestions of any broader unrest around the city. Mr. Bell’s family and fiancĂ©e left without making any comments and drove to visit his grave at the Nassau Knolls Cemetery and Memorial Park in Port Washington.

The verdict comes 17 months to the day since the Nov. 25, 2006, shooting of Mr. Bell, 23, and his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, outside the Club Kalua in Jamaica, Queens, hours before Mr. Bell was to be married.

It was delivered in a packed courtroom. Mr. Bell’s family sat silently as Justice Cooperman spoke from the bench. Behind them, a woman was heard to ask, “Did he just say, ‘Not guilty?’ ” Detective Oliver and the two other defendants, Detectives Gescard F. Isnora and Marc Cooper, were escorted out a side doorway as court adjourned.





Black History: Prison for teaching slaves to read

Crossposted from Left Toon Lane, Bilerico Project & My Left Wing



click to enlarge
SPECIAL REQUEST FOR TCD FANS: The San Francisco Chronicle is pondering the addition of new cartoons for their paper - a process that seems to be initiated by Darren Bell, creator of Candorville (one of my daily reads - highly recommended). You can read the Chronicle article here and please add your thoughts to the comments if you wish. If anything, put in a good word for Darren and Candorville.

I am submitting Town Called Dobson to the paper for their consideration. They seem to have given great weight to receiving 200 messages considering Candorville. I am asking TCD fans to try to surpass that amount. (I get more than that many hate mails a day, surely fans can do better?)

This is not a race between Darren and I, it is a hope that more progressive strips can be represented in the printed press of America.

So if you read the San Francisco Chronicle or live in the Bay Area (Google Analytics tell me there are a lot of you), please send your kind comments (or naked, straining outrage) to David Wiegand at his published addresses below. If you are a subscriber, cut out your mailing label and staple it to a TCD strip and include it in your letter.

candorcomment@sfchronicle.com

or

David Wiegand
Executive Datebook Editor
The San Francisco Chronicle
901 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94103


Strip Essay:

In 1831, a bloody slave rebellion took place in Southampton County, Virginia. A slave named Nat Turner who was able to read and write and had "visions", led what became known as Nat Turner's Rebellion or the Southampton Insurrection. On a crusade with the goal of freeing himself and others, Turner and his followers killed approximately fifty men, women and children, but were eventually subdued by the white militia.


Nat Turner was hanged and skinned. His fellow freedom fighters were also hanged. In addition to killing Turner and his fellow insurrectionists, more than a hundred innocent slaves who had nothing to do with the rebellion were also murdered by the white militia. Across the South, harsh new laws were enacted in the aftermath of the 1831 Turner Rebellion to curtail the already limited rights of African Americans. Typical was the Virginia law against educating slaves, free blacks and children of whites and blacks. These laws were often defied by individuals, among whom was noted future Confederate General Stonewall Jackson.

In mid-century, at the same time that religious instruction was waning as the primary goal of education -- at least among reformers -- religious instruction of free and enslaved blacks in the South appeared to take on a renewed urgency. The slave rebellions, especially Nat Turner's, had underscored for whites the need to maintain tight control over the literacy of blacks and the tenor of their religious beliefs. Although every southern state had outlawed the teaching of reading and writing to enslaved blacks (and in some cases, free blacks as well), there is considerable evidence that some whites defied the law.

For example, in 1853, a Mrs. Margaret Douglass of Norfolk, Virginia, "being greatly interested in the religious and moral instruction of colored children and finding that the Sunday school where they were allowed to attend was not sufficient," began teaching free black children to read and write in her home. Mrs. Douglass pleaded ignorance of the law, having believed that it applied only to the teaching of slaves, and the mayor announced his intention to dismiss the charge; however, the Grand Jury chose to indict her. In her defense, she demonstrated that teaching free black children to read had been a common practice in the city's Sunday schools for years. The jury's penalty of one dollar was overturned by a Judge Baker, who imposed a month-long prison sentence, "as an example to all others in like cases."

In rendering judgement, Baker spoke at length about the importance of religious instruction of blacks and its role in making slaves moral and happy, but stressed that it should be kept separate from "intellectual" instruction. He blamed this prohibition against black education on "abolition pamphlets and inflammatory documents" intended "to be distributed among our Southern negroes to induce them them to cut our throats."

The Verdict & Judgement:



November 13 [1853]

The Jury this morning returned into court with a verdict of Guilty, and fixing the penalty at a fine of one dollar. The Court then adjourned for the term.

January 10, 1854

After the adjournment of the Court on November 13, Mrs. Douglass obtained permission from the Judge and the Sheriff to visit New York, where she remained several weeks, returning to Norfolk with her daughter. She appeared today for sentence.

JUDGE BAKER . . .

There are persons, I believe, in our community, opposed to the policy of the law in question. They profess to believe that universal intellectual culture is necessary to religious instruction and education, and that such culture is suitable to a state of slavery; and there can be no misapprehension as to your opinions on this subject, judging from the indiscreet freedom with which you spoke of your regard for the colored race in general. Such opinions in the present state of our society I regard as manifestly mischievous. It is not true that our slaves cannot be taught religious and moral duty, without being able to read the Bible and use the pen. Intellectual and religious instruction often go hand in hand, but the latter may well be exist without the former; and the truth of this is abundantly vindicated by the well-known fact in many parts of our own Commonwealth, as in other parts of the county in which among the whites one-fouth or more are entirely without a knowledge of letters, respect for the law, and for moral and religious conduct and behavior, are justly and propely appreciated and practiced.

A valuable report or document recently published in the city of New York by the Southern Aid Society sets forth many valuable and important truths upon the condition of Southern slaves, and the utility of moral and religious instruction, apart from a knowledge of books. I recommend the careful perusal of it to all whose opinions concur with your own. It shows that a system of catechetical instruction, with a clear and simple exposition of Scripture, has been employed with gratifying success; that the slave population. of the South are peculiarly susceptible of good religious influences. Their mere residence among a Christian people has wrought a great and happy change in their condition: they have been raised from the night of heathenism to the light of Christianity, and thousands of them have been brought to a saving knowledge of the Gospel.

Of the one hundred millions of the negro race, there cannot be found another so large a body as the three millions of slaves in the United States, at once so intelligent, so inclined to the Gospel, and so blessed by the elevating influence of civilization and Christianity. Occasional instances of cruelty and oppression, it is true, may sometimes occur, and probably will ever continue to take place under any system of laws: but this is not confined to wrongs committed upon the negro; wrongs are committed and cruelly practiced in a like degree by the lawless white man upon his own color; and while the negroes of our town and State are known to be surrounded by most of the substantial comforts of life, and invited both by precept and example to participate in proper, moral and religious duties, it argues, it seems to me, a sickly sensibility towards them to say their persons, and feelings, and interests are not sufficiently respected by our laws, which, in effect, tend to nullify the act of our Legislature passed for the security and protection of their masters.

The law under which you have been tried and found guilty is not to be found among the original enactments of our Legislature. The first legislative provision upon this subject was introduced in the year 1831, immediately succeeding the bloody scenes of the memorable Southampton insurrection; and that law being found not sufficiently penal to check the wrongs complained of, was re-enacted with additional penalties in the year 1848, which last mentioned act, after several years' trial and experience, has been re-affirmed by adoption, and incorporated into our present code. After these several and repeated recognitions of the wisdom and propriety of the said act, it may well be said that bold and open opposition to it is a matter not to be slightly regarded, especially as we have reason to believe that every Southern slave state in our country, as a measure of self-preservation and protection, has deemed it wise and just to adopt laws with similar provisions.

There might have been no occasion for such enactments in Virginia, or elsewhere, on the subject of negro education, but as a matter of self-defense against the schemes of Northern incendiaries, and the outcry against holding our sIaves in bondage. Many now living well remember how, and when, and why, the anti-slavery fury began, and by what means its manifestations were made public. Our mails were clogged with abolition pamphlets and inflammatory documents, to be distributed among our Southern negroes to induce them to cut our throats. Sometimes, it may be, these libelous documents were distributed by Northern citizens professing Southern feelings, and at other times, by Southern people professing Northern feelings. These, however, were not the only means resorted to by the Northern fanatics to stir up insubordination among our slaves. They scattered far and near pocket handkerchiefs, and other similar articles, with frightful engravings, and printed over with anti-slavery nonsense, with the view to work upon the feeling and ignorance of our negroes, who otherwise would have remained comfortable and happy. Under such circumstances there was but one measure of protection for the South, and that was adopted. . . .

For these reasons, as an example to all others in like cases disposed to offend, and in vindication of the policy and justness of our laws, which every individual should be taught to respect, the judgment of the Court is, in addition to the proper fine and costs, that you be imprisoned for the period of one month in the jail of this city.



The situation was better in the North and the first African Free School was opened in New York City in 1787. This school and six others in the city began receiving public funding in 1824. People who graduated from these schools included Henry Highland Garnet and Ira Aldridge.

When Prudence Crandall, a Quaker, opened a school for black girls in Canterbury, Connecticut, attempts were made by local white people to burn the building down. Despite attempts to prevent the school receiving essential supplies, Crandall school continued and began to attract girls from Boston and Philadelphia. The local authorities then began using a vagrancy law against these students. These girls could now be given ten lashes of the whip for attending the school. William Lloyd Garrison reported the case in the Liberator and with the support of the Anti-Slavery Society Crandall continued to run the school.

In 1834 Connecticut passed a law making it illegal to provide a free education for black students. When Prudence Crandall refused to obey the law she was arrested and imprisoned. Crandall was convicted but won the case on appeal. When news of the court decision reached Canterbury, a white mob attacked the school and threatened the lives of Crandall and her students. Afraid that the children would be killed or badly injured, Crandall decided to close her school down.

In 1849 Charles Sumner helped Sarah C. Roberts to sue the city of Boston for refusing to admit black children to its schools. Their case was lost but in 1855 Massachusetts legislature changed its policy and declared that "no person shall be excluded from a Public School on account of race, colour or prejudice."

Birth Of A Notion Disclaimer

Homework

Bulletproof


SF Gate:

McCain Criticized for Slur
He says he'll keep using term for ex-captors in Vietnam

Arizona Sen. John McCain refused to apologize yesterday for his use of a racial slur to condemn the North Vietnamese prison guards who tortured and held him captive during the war.

"I hate the gooks," McCain said yesterday in response to a question from reporters aboard his campaign bus. "I will hate them as long as I live."

McCain, a former Navy pilot who spent five years in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, was questioned about the language because of a story last month in the Nation magazine reporting his continued use of the slur.

Since then, reports of McCain's language have been circulating on Internet chat sites and e-mails among Asian Americans, many of whom find the the term offensive and inappropriate for an elected official.

McCain's appeal to voters has been as a wartime hero and a feisty politician who speaks his mind and damns the consequences. But his comments on the eve of the key South Carolina primary show the candidate's vaunted "straight talk" in another light.

"The use of a racist slur can't be acceptable for any national leader, regardless of his background," said Diane Chin, executive director of the San Francisco-based Chinese for Affirmative Action. "For someone running for president not to recognize the power of words is a problem."

While McCain's words may have little effect in conservative South Carolina, where few Asian Americans live, they could come back to haunt him in other states.

"Historically, straight talkers who say things off the top of their heads eventually hang themselves with those sorts of remarks," said Bruce Cain, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley.

"While it might not hurt him now, Democrats are not going to have any hesitation about using this stuff to string him up later."

Will it? I'm not so sure.

When Jesse Jackson stupidly said "Hymietown" years ago, his career as a presidential candidate was over. But no matter what McCain says or does, it doesn't hurt him. Remember Mr. Straight Talk Empress singing "Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran"? I guess some words are more offensive than others.

If I'm not careful, this non-controversy could make me bitter.

(The graphic is by ohluis111539 from Deviant ART)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Nazi Republicans Running For Congress

Crossposted from Left Toon Lane, Bilerico Project & My Left Wing



click to enlarge
SPECIAL REQUEST FOR TCD FANS: The San Francisco Chronicle is pondering the addition of new cartoons for their paper - a process that seems to be initiated by Darren Bell, creator of Candorville (one of my daily reads - highly recommended). You can read the Chronicle article here and please add your thoughts to the comments if you wish. If anything, put in a good word for Darren and Candorville.

I am submitting Town Called Dobson to the paper for their consideration. They seem to have given great weight to receiving 200 messages considering Candorville. I am asking TCD fans to try to surpass that amount. (I get more than that many hate mails a day, surely fans can do better?)

This is not a race between Darren and I, it is a hope that more progressive strips can be represented in the printed press of America.

So if you read the San Francisco Chronicle or live in the Bay Area (Google Analytics tell me there are a lot of you), please send your kind comments (or naked, straining outrage) to David Wiegand at his published addresses below. If you are a subscriber, cut out your mailing label and staple it to a TCD strip and include it in your letter.

candorcomment@sfchronicle.com

or

David Wiegand
Executive Datebook Editor
The San Francisco Chronicle
901 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94103


Strip Essay:
For the life of me, I cannot understand Republicans. As soon as I think I am getting close to the GOP Tree Of Knowledge, up pops a Republican primary candidate celebrating Hitler's 119th birthday.

On Sunday, Tony Zirkle, candidate for Indiana's 2nd US Congressional District, spoke to a crowd of nearly 60 neo-Nazis/white supremacists gathered in Chicago to commemorate Hitler's birthday. The fact that Tony Zirkle, a candidate for United States Congress, would honor a gathering of neo-Nazis who believe one of the most evil men the world has ever known was in fact a great leader, is utterly despicable and beyond the pale. Tony Zirkle has disgraced himself. (PR nightmare photo here)

Now, when confronted with his stupidity, Reichsmarschall Zirkle claims he was misunderstood, the Southbend Tribune reports:



Zirkle said he feels he was misunderstood. His real mission, he said, is to rid the country of pornography, and that's what he was saying at the ANSWP gathering. So how did his comment about Jews fit in?

"Most of the male porn stars were Jewish at the beginning," Zirkle explained.

Now the male porn stars are mostly black, he claimed, and the women who appear in pornographic works tend to be "young, white, Christian women."

If people think he is targeting the Jews, he said, they are misinterpreting his position. He is targeting, Zirkle said, the "porn dragon" that inspires Jews to get involved in pornography.



Suffice it to say, Godwin's Law has been broken right off the bat.

Hat Tip to Bilerico

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Black History: The Causes of the Civil War

Crossposted from Left Toon Lane, Bilerico Project & My Left Wing



click to enlarge
SPECIAL REQUEST FOR TCD FANS: The San Francisco Chronicle is pondering the addition of new cartoons for their paper - a process that seems to be initiated by Darren Bell, creator of Candorville (one of my daily reads - highly recommended). You can read the Chronicle article here and please add your thoughts to the comments if you wish. If anything, put in a good word for Darren and Candorville.

I am submitting Town Called Dobson to the paper for their consideration. They seem to have given great weight to receiving 200 messages considering Candorville. I am asking TCD fans to try to surpass that amount. (I get more than that many hate mails a day, surely fans can do better?)

This is not a race between Darren and I, it is a hope that more progressive strips can be represented in the printed press of America.

So if you read the San Francisco Chronicle or live in the Bay Area (Google Analytics tell me there are a lot of you), please send your kind comments (or naked, straining outrage) to David Wiegand at his published addresses below. If you are a subscriber, cut out your mailing label and staple it to a TCD strip and include it in your letter.

candorcomment@sfchronicle.com

or

David Wiegand
Executive Datebook Editor
The San Francisco Chronicle
901 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94103

Buzz It and Digg It

Strip Essay:
The main explanation for the origins of the American Civil War was slavery, especially the issue of the expansion of slavery into the territories. States' rights and the tariff became entangled in the slavery issue, and were intensified by it. Other important factors were party politics, expansionism, sectionalism, economics and modernization in the Antebellum Period.

The United States was a nation divided into two distinct regions separated by the Mason-Dixon line. New England, the Northeast and the Midwest had a rapidly growing economy based on family farms, industry, mining, commerce and transportation, with a large and rapidly growing urban population and no slavery outside the border states. Its growth was fed by a high birth rate and large numbers of European immigrants, especially Irish, British, German, Polish and Scandinavian.

The South was dominated by a settled plantation system based on slavery, with rapid growth taking place in the Southwest, such as Texas, based on high birth rates and low immigration from Europe. There were few cities or towns, and little manufacturing except in border areas. Slave owners controlled politics and economics. Two-thirds of the Southern whites owned no slaves and usually were engaged in subsistence agriculture, but support for slavery came from all segments of southern society.

Overall, the Northern population was growing much more quickly than the Southern population, which made it increasingly difficult for the South to continue to control the national government. Southerners were worried about the relative political decline of their region because the North was growing much faster in terms of population and industrial output.

In the interest of maintaining unity, politicians had mostly moderated opposition to slavery, resulting in numerous compromises such as the Missouri Compromise of 1820. After the Mexican-American War, the issue of slavery in the new territories led to the Compromise of 1850. While the compromise averted an immediate political crisis, it did not permanently resolve the issue of the Slave power (the power of slaveholders to control the national government).

Amid the emergence of increasingly virulent and hostile sectional ideologies in national politics, the collapse of the old Second Party System in the 1850s hampered efforts of the politicians to reach yet one more compromise. The compromise that was reached (the Kansas-Nebraska Act) outraged too many northerners. In the 1850s, with the rise of the Republican Party, the first major party with no appeal in the South, the industrializing North and agrarian Midwest became committed to the economic ethos of free-labor industrial capitalism.

Arguments that slavery was undesirable for the nation had long existed. After 1840 abolitionists denounced slavery as more than a social evil — it was a moral wrong. Many Northerners, especially leaders of the new Republican Party, considered slavery a great national evil and believed that a small number of Southern owners of large plantations controlled the national government with the goal of spreading that evil.

In 1860, the election of Abraham Lincoln, who won the national election without receiving a single electoral vote from any of the Southern states, triggered the secession of the cotton states of the Deep South from the union.

Birth Of A Notion Disclaimer

Monday, April 21, 2008

Hillary Clinton: Unfuckingbelievable!

Appearing at The Jaundiced Eye, the Independent Bloggers' Alliance, and My Left Wing.



It's no secret that I hate Hillary. And everyday she gives me another reason. Her everything but the kitchen sink strategy continues and accelerates and now she's lobbed a toaster at Obama's head for stating the obvious.

"You have a real choice in this election. Either Democrat would be better than John McCain. And all three of us would be better than George Bush," Obama said.

Says Hillary:

"We need a nominee who will take on John McCain, not cheer on John McCain, and I will be that nominee," she said.

Let me get in my time machine and go back a whole month and half.

Hillary Clinton told reporters that both she and the presumtive Republican nominee John McCain offer the experience to be ready to tackle any crisis facing the country under their watch, but Barack Obama simply offers more rhetoric. “I think you'll be able to imagine many things Senator McCain will be able to say,” she said. “He’s never been the president, but he will put forth his lifetime of experience. I will put forth my lifetime of experience. Senator Obama will put forth a speech he made in 2002.”

Oh my gods and goddess. The woman will say anything. No matter how completely unmoored from reality and reason it may be, she will say anything to win. Much like Bush, little things like recently recorded history will not get in the way of her narrative. That's why her Bosnian fish story stuck in many a craw; because that kind of revisionism is par for the course with this woman.

In other news Michael Moore dissed Hillary, saying:

Well, that sounded good last year, but over the past two months, the actions and words of Hillary Clinton have gone from being merely disappointing to downright disgusting. I guess the debate last week was the final straw. I've watched Senator Clinton and her husband play this game of appealing to the worst side of white people, but last Wednesday, when she hurled the name "Farrakhan" out of nowhere, well that's when the silly season came to an early end for me. She said the "F" word to scare white people, pure and simple. Of course, Obama has no connection to Farrakhan. But, according to Senator Clinton, Obama's pastor does -- AND the "church bulletin" once included a Los Angeles Times op-ed from some guy with Hamas! No, not the church bulletin!

This sleazy attempt to smear Obama was brilliantly explained the following night by Stephen Colbert. He pointed out that if Obama is supported by Ted Kennedy, who is Catholic, and the Catholic Church is led by a Pope who was in the Hitler Youth, that can mean only one thing: OBAMA LOVES HITLER!

Yes, Senator Clinton, that's how you sounded. Like you were nuts. Like you were a bigot stoking the fires of stupidity. How sad that I would ever have to write those words about you. You have devoted your life to good causes and good deeds. And now to throw it all away for an office you can't win unless you smear the black man so much that the superdelegates cry "Uncle (Tom)" and give it all to you.

A-fucking-men! Moore sadly notes that he could not cast his vote for Obama, because like Floridians, Michigan residents were excluded by party rules from a real primary. What he does not say, is that he could have voted for Hillary and that if she has her way, that vote would count.

To shrink Obama's 800,000 popular-vote margin, the Clinton campaign argues for the inclusion of votes cast in Michigan and Florida. Those two states lost their right to send delegates to the convention by scheduling their contests earlier in the year than party rules allowed.

Clinton and Obama agreed not to campaign in the two states, and Obama took his name off the ballot in Michigan. Clinton won both uncontested races, and now says they should count in the nationwide popular-vote calculations.

Florida voters ``expressed their views,'' Clinton told the Newspaper Association of America in Washington on April 15. ``They have had their vote certified by the Florida secretary of state; it's part of the popular vote.''


That's what we're dealing with, in Hillary Clinton. A woman who thinks it's perfectly fair to include the results of an uncontested primary into the tally. A woman who just makes up the rules -- and the facts -- as she goes along. Unfuckingbelievable.

Black History: The Underground Railroad

Crossposted from Left Toon Lane, Bilerico Project & My Left Wing



click to enlarge
Many people associated with the Underground Railroad only knew their part of the operation and not of the whole scheme. Though this may seem like an unreliable route for slaves to gain their freedom, hundreds of slaves obtained freedom to the North every year.

The resting spots where the runaways could sleep and eat were given the code names “stations” and “depots” which were held by “station masters”. There were also those known as “stockholders” who gave money or supplies for assistance. There were the “conductors” who ultimately moved the runaways from station to station. The “conductor” would sometimes act as if he or she were a slave and enter a plantation. Once a part of a plantation the "conductor" would direct the fugitives to the North. During the night the slaves would move, traveling on about 10–20 miles (15–30 km) per night. They would stop at the so-called “stations” or "depots" during the day and rest. While resting at one station, a message was sent to the next station to let the station master know the runaways were on their way. Sometimes boats or trains would be used for transportation. Money was donated by many people to help buy tickets and even clothing for the fugitives so they would remain unnoticeable. Soon after the railroad had freed 300 slaves, some of the freed slaves made a store for the railroad.

Although the fugitives sometimes traveled on real railways, the primary means of transportation were on foot or by wagon.

In addition, routes were often purposely indirect in order to throw off pursuers. Most escapes were by individuals or small groups; occasionally, such as with the Pearl Rescue, there were mass escapes. The majority of the escapees are believed to have been male field workers younger than 40 years old. The journey was often too arduous and treacherous for women or children to complete. Many fugitive bondsmen, however, who escaped via the Railroad and established livelihoods as free men, later purchased their wives, children, and other family members out of slavery. Because of this, the number of former slaves who owed their freedom at least in part to the courage and determination of those who operated the Underground Railroad was greater than the many thousands who actually traveled its secret routes.

Due to the risk of discovery, information about routes and safe havens was passed along by word of mouth. Southern newspapers of the day were often filled with pages of notices soliciting information about escaped slaves and offering sizable rewards for their capture and return. Federal marshals and professional bounty hunters known as slave catchers pursued fugitives as far as the Canadian border.

The risk of capture was not limited solely to actual fugitives. Because strong, healthy blacks in their prime working and reproductive years were highly valuable commodities, it was not unusual for free blacks — both freedmen (former slaves) and those who had lived their entire lives in freedom — to be kidnapped and sold into slavery. "Certificates of freedom" — signed, notarized statements attesting to the free status of individual blacks — could easily be destroyed and thus afforded their owners little protection. Moreover, under the terms of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, when suspected fugitives were seized and brought to a special magistrate known as a commissioner, they had no right to a jury trial and could not testify in their own behalf; the marshal or private slave-catcher only needed to swear an oath to acquire a writ of replevin, for the return of property.

Nevertheless, Congress believed the fugitive slave laws were necessary because of the lack of cooperation by the police, courts, and public outside of the Deep South. States such as Michigan passed laws interfering with the federal bounty system, which politicians from the South felt was grossly inadequate, and this became a key motivation for secession. In some parts of the North slave-catchers needed police protection to carry out their federal authority. Even in states that resisted cooperation with slavery laws, though, blacks were often unwelcome; Indiana passed a constitutional amendment that barred blacks from settling in that state.

William Still, often called "The Father of the Underground Railroad", helped hundreds of slaves to escape (as many as 60 a month), sometimes hiding them in his Philadelphia home. He kept careful records, including short biographies of the people, that contained frequent railway metaphors. He maintained correspondence with many of them, often acting as a middleman in communications between escaped slaves and those left behind. He then published these accounts in the book The Underground Railroad in 1872.

According to Still, messages were often encoded so that messages could only be understood by those active in the railroad. For example, the following message, "I have sent via at two o'clock four large and two small hams", indicated that four adults and two children were sent by train from Harrisburg to Philadelphia. However, the additional word via indicated that the "passengers" were not sent on the usual train, but rather via Reading, Pennsylvania. In this case, authorities were tricked into going to the regular train station in an attempt to intercept the runaways, while Still was able to meet them at the correct station and guide them to safety, where they eventually escaped to Canada.

Since the 1980s, claims have arisen that quilt designs were used to signal and direct slaves to escape routes and assistance. The quilt design theory is disputed. The first published work documenting an oral history source was in 1999 and the first publishing is believed to be a 1980 children's book, so it is difficult to evaluate the veracity of these claims, which are not accepted by quilt historians. There is no contemporary evidence of any sort of quilt code, and quilt historians such as Pat Cummings and Barbara Brackman have raised serious questions about the idea. In addition, Underground Railroad historian Giles Wright has published a pamphlet debunking the quilt code.

Many accounts also mention spirituals and other songs that contained coded information intended to help navigate the railroad. Songs such as "Steal Away" and other field songs were often passed down purely orally, and others, like "Follow the Drinking Gourd," were published after the days of the Railroad. Tracing their origins and meanings is difficult. In any case, many African-American songs of the period deal with themes of freedom and escape, and distinguishing coded information from expression and sentiment may not be possible.

Estimates vary widely, but at least 30,000 slaves, some saying more than 100,000, escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. The largest group settled in Upper Canada (called Canada West from 1841, and today southern Ontario), where numerous African Canadian communities developed. These were generally in the triangular region bounded by Toronto, Niagara Falls, and Windsor. Nearly 1,000 refugees settled in Toronto, and several rural villages made up mostly of ex-slaves were established in Chatham-Kent and Essex County.

Important black settlements also developed in more distant British colonies (now parts of Canada). These included Nova Scotia, Lower Canada (present-day Quebec), as well as Vancouver Island, where Governor James Douglas encouraged black immigration because of his opposition to slavery and because he hoped a significant black community would form a bulwark against those who wished to unite the island with the United States.

Upon arriving at their destinations, many fugitives were disappointed. While the British colonies had no slavery, discrimination was still common. Many of the new arrivals had great difficulty finding jobs, in part because of mass European immigration at the time, and overt racism was common.

With the outbreak of the Civil War in the United States, many black refugees enlisted in the Union Army and, while some later returned to Canada, many remained in the United States. Thousands of others returned to the American South after the war ended. The desire to reconnect with friends and family was strong, and most were hopeful about the changes emancipation and Reconstruction would bring.

For more details check out National Geographic's site for the Underground Railroad



SPECIAL REQUEST FOR BAY AREA READERS: The San Francisco Chronicle is pondering the addition of new cartoons for their paper - a process that seems to be initiated by Darren Bell, creator of Candorville (one of my daily reads - highly recommended). You can read the Chronicle article here and please add your thoughts to the comments if you wish. If anything, put in a good word for Darren and Candorville.

I am submitting Town Called Dobson to the paper for their consideration. They seem to have given great weight to receiving 200 messages considering Candorville. I am asking TCD fans to try to surpass that amount. (I get more than that many hate mails a day, surely fans can do better?)

This is not a race between Darren and I, it is a hope that more progressive strips can be represented in the printed press of America.

So if you read the San Francisco Chronicle or live in the Bay Area (Google Analytics tell me there are a lot of you), please send your kind comments (or naked, straining outrage) to David Wiegand at his published addresses below. If you are a subscriber, cut out your mailing label and staple it to a TCD strip and include it in your letter.

candorcomment@sfchronicle.com

or

David Wiegand
Executive Datebook Editor
The San Francisco Chronicle
901 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94103

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