Sometime during the American Civil War, an angry crowd surrounded the home of Edward Russell in Davenport, intent on hanging him.
Russell was the editor of the Davenport Gazette who wrote staunchly abolitionist and equal rights editorials, inciting those with opposing views.
As the crowd gathered around, Russell got out onto the roof of his porch and with his oratory, was able to “talk down” the crowd and live to see the morning.
That virtually unknown slice of Davenport history is one of the stories Douglas Jones, archaeologist with the State Historical Society of Iowa, will relay on Friday, May 18, during a free talk in Tipton, Iowa.
“Radical Thoughts in the Tallgrass Prairies: Equal Rights for All” will share information gathered by the historical society since 2001 when it began a statewide investigation of the people, places and events associated with the Underground Railroad, Jones explained.
Much of the information about Russell was gleaned from a book written by his son that described how the elder Russell not only was involved in the Underground Railroad, but also was working with Alexander Clark of Muscatine, “trying to force the issue of equal voting rights,” Jones said.
Clark was a free African-American who came to Muscatine in 1842 and became Iowa’s most prominent and influential black citizen.
Clark and Russell are two of the five people Jones will talk about.
Another figure with Quad-City region connections is Ann Coppoc Raley of Springdale, a small community in Cedar County that, during the time of the Civil War, was heavily Quaker and abolitionist.
Coppoc Raley was an Underground Railroad worker and two of her sons, accompanied John Brown on the 1859 raid on the U.S. Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Va. The raid was an attempt by abolitionist Brown to start an armed slave revolt by seizing the arsenal. One of the sons was captured and hanged for his participation. The other escaped.
The people Jones will speak about were not simply involved in the Underground Railroad — an act that intentionally violated the law — but they also were advocates for equal rights.
Although abolitionists were opposed to slavery, “the idea of equal rights for all people … was not a commonly held belief” among them — a fact that may come as a surprise to people today, Jones explained.
And the support for equal rights wasn’t only for African-Americans. It also extended to women and people with disabilities.
These were radical positions for people to take in the 1800s, and Jones’ voice fills with admiration as he talks about his subjects and the courage it must have taken to stand their ground. Furthermore, “the thing about these people is that they were not the ‘nobodies’ of their communities,” he said. “These were the big ‘somebodies,’ and they were fighting hard.”
In addition to Russell, Clark and Coppoc Raley, Jones will discuss Isaac Brandt, an Underground Railroad worker in Des Moines, and Edmund Booth, abolitionist/equal rights editor of the Anamosa newspaper.