In his narrative,”Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom;
or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery“, William Craft documents the escape of himself and his wife from the bondage of slavery. Throughout, he grapples with many of the social, political, legal, and even theological reasoning for the differences between whites and blacks in his time. Unlike many slave narratives set in similar times, Craft’s narrative contains few descriptions of violence to exhibit the cruelty of slavery. Instead, he makes use of second hand accounts, allusions to laws, poetry, and literature, and first hand experience to craft a compelling tale of how his divided society operated.
Craft’s experience escaping to the north in the company of his wife disguised as a master brings forth many interesting points of how racial differences were perceived. Craft’s wife, Ellen, was of a very light complexion and was very nearly white. She was able to pass for an older white man with the help of a disguise. It is shocking to learn that in a society where the color of one’s skin can often determine the extent to which they are treated as a human being, such a simple disguise can change his wife from slave to an esteemed white gentleman. This portion of the story exhibits how flimsy racial distinctions can be, particularly with those who are not strictly light or dark in complexion, even in a society where race is correlated so closely with humanity itself.
Craft also includes a few stories of white people being sold into slavery. His inclusion of this is quite unique, as many other narratives would not include such a passage and it is not very widely known that whites were ever sold into slavery. This distinction shows that it was not always racial lines that created differences and injustice, but sometimes just the perceived social superiority and blatant disregard for human rights of the slave holder.
Throughout the narrative, Craft also includes laws regarding slavery. He makes it clear that African Americans were not just socially ostracized, but also treated as less than human by the law itself. Even in some cases where the law appears to give the slave protections, there are obvious loopholes and exploits to make them totally null and void. For instance, the Constitution of Georgia at the time outlawed the killing of slaves, but also included that any slaves that were killed on “accident” through the use of “moderate correction” were to be excused. Laws like this quite literally allowed slave holders to get away with murder and failed to grant slaves even a shred of humanity.
Finally, Craft discusses the hypocrisy of how slavery can exist in a southern society of seemingly devout Christians. In a religion that preached peace and tolerance they allowed the unjust and cruel institution of slavery. In many cases, religion was even used to justify slavery, as many slaveholders believe that God provided the negro to serve the white man and they were free to do what they wish with their slaves. In their view, any abolitionists were directly contradicting God’s will. In this way, religion served as yet another tool by which difference was cultivated in this society.