Monday, January 31, 2011

February is Black History Month

How much do you know about the history of African-Americans in Iowa and the United States? For instance, did you know that the first Iowa Supreme Court decision declared a slave working in Dubuque a free man?

In the early 1830s a Man named Ralph Montgomery heard that a fortune could be made in the Dubuque lead mines. In the spring of 1834 Ralph's owner, Jordan Montgomery wrote an agreement giving Ralph permission to travel to Dubuque from Missouri. Ralph promised to to pay Jordan $550 plus interest in return for his freedom.

Ralph went to work in the lead mines but never made enough money to buy his freedom. Two slave-catchers captured Ralph and offered to return him to his owner for $100. Iowa was a free territory and fortunately for Ralph, Alexander Butterworth, a concerned eye-witness saw Ralph's capture. With the aid of Judge T.S. Wilson and a court order Butterworth rescued Ralph from his captors just in time.

Ralph's freedom rested in the hands of the newly established Iowa Supreme Court and Judge Wilson, one of Iowa's first judges. The case called "The Matter of Ralph (a colored man)," made history as the first decision of the Iowa Supreme Court. On Independence Day, 1839 Ralph was declared a free man.

About a year after the hearing, the same judge saw Ralph again, working in the garden behind the judge's house. He asked Ralph what he was doing and Ralph replied, "I ain't paying you for what you done for me. But I want to work for you for one day every Spring to show you that I never forget." Ralph was true to his word.
(Adapted from original article by Elaine Croyle Bezanson, The Goldfinch 16: No. 4 (Summer 1995). Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa.
© State Historical Society of Iowa)

To find more about the history of African-Americans in Iowa including the story of Ralph Montgomery go to

Would you like more information? Check out one of the following websites:
A website that celebrates black history every month.
Ongoing blog featuring posts about black history and events in the United States.
An online guide to African-American history and culture.
Videos, speeches, photo galleries and interactive resources specific to black history month.
Facts about African-Americans throughout history.
A collection of biographies about influential African-Americans throughout history.

To find more resources available at Carnegie-Stout Public Library see the display at the Recommendations desk on the first floor.

No comments:

Post a Comment