Not even the threat of being sold into slavery could stop Samuel Burris, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, from helping slaves to freedom in the 19th century. A free black man, Burris was caught helping a slave try to escape from Delaware in 1847. After Burris was tried and found guilty of enticing slaves to escape, part of his sentence was that he be sold into slavery for seven years. Instead, a Pennsylvania anti-slavery society raised the money to purchase him and set him free. And Burris went right back to helping slaves escape. Now, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell has decided to posthumously pardon Burris for that long ago conviction, according to two people who have sought that step. Ocea Thomas of Atlanta said Tuesday that she received a phone call last weekend letting her know Markell would pardon Burris, who died in the 1860s and was one of her ancestors.
"I stood there and cried. It was pride. It was relief. I guess justification. All of that," Thomas says of the moment she heard the news. Thomas says she was told the pardon will take place on Nov. 2, the anniversary of Burris' conviction. The state had already been planning to unveil a historical marker honoring Burris that day. The marker will be placed in Delaware's Kent County, near where Burris grew up. Robert Seeley, of Havertown, Pa., who had asked the governor earlier this year to pardon Burris and two other men, confirmed that he'd also been contacted about the pardon. There has been no official comment yet from Markell's office. "It's a victory. It brings honor to the Burris family and it brings justice for Samuel Burris and his descendants," Seeley says. "It's making a wrong a right finally."