By Alisha “Tuff” Tuff • Knowledge is Power • February 7, 2023 •
Our stories are precious and powerful. Our histories tell us where we come from, where we have been and how our resistance and determination changed our future. Have you ever heard the story of Henrietta Wood?
Henrietta was a formerly enslaved person in Ohio after her enslaver granted her freedom upon leaving Kentucky, a slave state. Her freedom was well-documented. This changed, however, when the enslaver’s daughter and son-in-law conspired to re-enslave her because they believed they were entitled to her.
They worked with a man named Zebulon Ward who captured Henrietta by paying off her employer to trick her into crossing back into Kentucky. Along the way they destroyed Henrietta’s copy of her freedom papers. Additionally, the court that had Henrietta’s original freedom papers lost them in a fire. Henrietta pleaded for her freedom to a Kentucky court in Wood v Ward, but, without documentation, Kentucky law at the time considered her an enslaved person.
Henrietta was sold to Gerard Brandon, one of the largest slaveholders in the South. Eventually, the Civil War began, and Brandon ran further south to Texas to avoid emancipation, bringing the African American people he enslaved with him.
In 1866, Henrietta became a free woman again.
She was determined to get justice against Ward for his role in kidnapping and enslaving her. She took him to court once again in Cincinnati, Ohio, in Wood v Ward. Henrietta Wood won and was awarded $2,500 – the biggest sum ever given to a former slave in U.S. history.
All around the United States, there are people who try to silence our stories and histories. Often, our histories have been shared with false pretenses or have been pushed to the side. But our stories show our pain and sorrow, resilience, excellence, power, wisdom, culture, triumph and capability. We come from a lineage of fighters. We shall overcome. We must preserve our stories and continue to pass down our legacies. We must continue to fight to bring our stories into the classroom because this is American history! Black history is American history.
Photo credit: National Archives at Chicago
Hudson, J. (October 7, 2022). Henrietta Wood: The Enslaved Woman Who Sued for (and Won) Reparations. National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
McDaniel, C. (September 2019) In 1870, Henrietta Wood Sued for Reparations—and Won. Smithsonian Magazine.
McDaniel, C. (2019). Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America. Oxford University Press.
[©2023, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 7, 2023, eNews edition within Knowledge is Power focused on Black History Month by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]