A Long-Overdue Pardon For A Man Who Helped Free Slaves

Photo: John Bazemore/ AP Photo.
Samuel Burris, a free Black man born in Delaware in 1808, helped slaves escape by way of the Underground Railroad during the first half of the 19th century. Burris was convicted and sold into slavery for his crimes. Now, nearly 150 years after his death, the governor of Delaware is making the commendable decision to pardon him.

"This pardon will serve as an opportunity to right a historic injustice towards a man who was steadfast in his courage while facing grave danger. I appreciate the work of the Burris family and others in bringing this to our attention," Gov. Jack Markell said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the governor's office reached out to Burris' living descendants to let them know that their ancestor would be forgiven for the inhumane laws he had the courage to break.

"I stood there and cried. It was pride. It was relief. I guess, justification. All of that," Ocea Thomas (pictured above) told ABC News. Thomas' great-great-grandmother was Burris' sister.

According to the State of Delaware's Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, Burris was born in Kent County as a free man. He moved to Philadelphia with his family and became a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, the clandestine system of routes and individuals that helped slaves migrate north to freedom during the 19th century.

Burris got caught helping a runaway slave in 1847. A Delaware court sentenced him to be sold into slavery for seven years. At his auction, an anti-slavery society bought him and set him free.

The Delaware state constitution gives the governor the power to grant pardons, pending approval from an official board. That board approved Burris' case in late August, the governor's office said.

Burris' pardon will take place on November 2, the anniversary of his conviction.

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