William and Ellen Craft, Black Educator Hall of Famers

E’ry day this month, the Center for Black Educator Development, in partnership with Phillys7thWard.org, will highlight a Black Educator Hall of Famer.

But, don’t forget, e’ry month is Black History Month. February is just the Blackest.

Today, our featured Black Educators were the couple, William Craft and Ellen Craft.

William (1824–1900) and Ellen (1826–1891) Craft were a married couple who escaped enslavement in 1848. William was born in Macon, GA, and Ellen was born in Clinton, GA. The two met in Macon when Ellen was sold as a wedding gift to the head of the Macon plantation at eleven years old. Their captor permitted the two to marry, and they did in 1846. However, William understood the insecurity of their situation. He said to Ellen:

“Ellen, our master has allowed us to marry. But in slavery we can never really be man and wife. We do not belong to each other. We belong to our master. We are his property. He can sell us whenever he wishes. We are happy now, but tomorrow, you may be sold away from me, or I may be sold away from you. Our happiness may end at any moment. There is only one way to avoid this. In some way we must become free.”

Their famous plot involved Ellen pretending to be a white man and William her property. Because Ellen was fair-skinned, the plot was successful. The couple safely made it to Philadelphia in a few days but didn’t stay long. To evade slave catchers, the pair made their way to Boston. While in Bost. They settled in Boston, MA. They were formally married and, for a time, were happy living there. That is until the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, allowing self-emancipated African Americans to be recaptured.

Once slave catchers arrived in Boston with a warrant for their arrest, the couple went into hiding. They would eventually leave Boston for London, England. The Crafts settled down safely and had two children. The family returned to the United States after emancipation in 1869. Having raised enough money, the Crafts desired to start a cooperative farm for ex-slaves and a school for children.

William Craft, out of a desire to help Black people, decided to buy a plantation in his native state in the neighborhood of Savannah, establishing an industrial school where several ambitious young Negroes obtained an education. Initially, the school was successful. According to Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s Negro History Bulletin, persons still alive at the time (1937) still spoke of the benefits they received from coming under the influence of William and Ellen Craft. The school taught 75 students free of charge.

However, there was savage hatred.

The Ku Klux Klan burned their first plantation in South Carolina, but a determined Ellen and William started a second plantation in Byron County, outside of Savannah. When setting the plantation ablaze didn’t work, whites resorted to slander. By 1876, some financial backers accused William Craft of taking donations for his own use, but it was nothing more than slander from white detractors. William sued for libel but lost in court. But the damage was done; the slander caused school funding to dry up, and the Crafts were forced to close the school.

The Crafts left the area and settled in Charleston, South Carolina, where they would live the rest of their days.

William and Ellen Craft; members of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.

For more information on the Crafts, visit the following site.


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