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By Mike Rutledge

Reinhardt_who coverCOVINGTON — Americans were shocked in 1856 to learn an escaped black slave had slit her young daughter’s throat in Cincinnati rather than let the girl return to bondage in Kentucky.

That grim choice by Margaret Garner – before slave trackers forced their way into a hideaway house to capture her family – increased anger against slavery 156 years ago, helping lead to the Civil War five years later.

“I think it shocked people because the whole idea she would rather see her children die – particularly the female children – rather than go back into slavery was significant,” said Bridget Striker, local history coordinator for the Boone County Public Library.

Few things at the time revealed the horrors of slavery quite like the dangers people risked to escape it.

Miles upriver and years earlier, one woman eluding the grasp of slave hunters near Ripley, Ohio, was so desperate to cross the Ohio River she crawled across rotten ice, repeatedly falling into the water and yelling wildly as ice sheets broke below her.

Americans had read about a similar frenzied escape in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The run for freedom of that character, Eliza Harris, was based on a woman’s actual escape at Ripley, author Ann Hagedorn reported in her 2002 book, “Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad.”

But the plight of 22-year-old, pregnant Margaret Garner and her family shone another glaring national light on the blunt treachery of slavery.

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