The Daring Escape of Ona Judge
Runaway is a picture book biography of Ona Judge, a biracial enslaved servant, who defied George and Martha Washington and the first Fugitive Slave Act when she fled from President’s House in Philadelphia (1796). The story focuses on Ona’s decision, and the risks she faced escaping from the life she knew—enslavement—to the unknown life as a fugitive in New Hampshire, a state in the process of becoming slavery free.
Told in verse, Ona’s story shows readers that the desire for liberty and fairness is more potent than “soft” enslavement. Although treated well by the Washingtons, Ona was still enslaved and unable to be an advocate for her own life. Runaway gives readers a fuller understanding of American slavery at the time of the founding of a nation that declared itself a place of freedom.
This book doesn’t shy away from the horrors of slavery; it uses a rhetorical refrain to pull the reader into Ona’s decision: “Why you run, Ona Judge?” This haunting meditation welcomes meaningful and necessary conversation among readers. Keith Mallett’s rich illustrations add further to the feeling and majesty of Ona’s brave and daring escape.
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