Born into slavery, by the 1840s Thomas Smallwood was free, self-educated, and working as a shoemaker a short walk from the U.S. Capitol. He recruited a young white activist, Charles Torrey, and together they began to organize mass escapes from Washington, Baltimore, and surrounding counties to freedom in the north.
They were racing against an implacable enemy: men like Hope Slatter, the region's leading slave trader, part of a lucrative industry that would tear one million enslaved people from their families and sell them to the brutal cotton and sugar plantations of the deep south.
Men, women, and children in imminent danger of being sold south turned to Smallwood, who risked his own freedom to battle what he called "the most inhuman system that ever blackened the pages of history." And he documented the escapes in satirical newspaper columns, mocking the slaveholders, the slave traders and the police who worked for them.
At a time when Americans are rediscovering a tragic and cruel history and struggling anew with the legacy of white supremacy, this Flee North -- the first to tell the extraordinary story of Smallwood -- offers complicated heroes, genuine villains, and a powerful narrative set in cities still plagued by shocking racial inequity today.
Scott Shane was a reporter for 15 years at The New York Times, where he was twice a member of teams that won Pulitzer Prizes, and before that for 21 years at The Baltimore Sun. His two previous books are Dismantling Utopia, a firsthand account of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Objective Troy, the story of an American terrorist killed in a drone strike on orders of President Obama. In 2019-2020 he was a fellow at the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, where he has taught courses on media and on the Russian attack on the 2016 American presidential election.
Shane will be in conversation with Helene Cooper, a New York Times Pentagon reporter and author of the bestselling memoir, The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood. Her work in Liberia covering the Ebola epidemic was part of a package that won the Pulitzer Prize. Her most recent book is Madame President: The Extraordinary Story of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.