On August 12, 1846, 12 males representing each state that also enslaved human beings assembled at a home on the nook of Inexperienced and Seventh Road in St. Louis, Mo. Earlier than their newly elected “Chief” revealed a 10-year-plan to recruit, manage and prepare for a nationwide race struggle, they every put their hand over their hearts and recited the pledge that explains why so little is understood concerning the Knights of Liberty: “I can die, however I can not reveal the identify of any member…
Till the slaves are free.”
Moses Dickson, some of the essential however ignored folks in Black historical past, was born on April 5, 1824, in Cincinnati, Ohio. After he “mastered all branches of examine that have been taught in that early day,” Dickson started coaching as a barber. At 16, he discovered a job reducing hair aboard steamships whereas witnessing the evil of slavery and white supremacy up shut. His three-year “tour” satisfied him that the one approach America would finish slavery was by way of militant motion.
To maintain his group secret, Dickson got here up with an excellent transfer. In 1855, he created one other group, the Twelve Knights of Tabor, “for the aim of aiding in breaking the bonds of our slavery.” This secret order was not linked with the Knights of Liberty; it was created to “perpetuate the identify” as a result of too many white folks had heard rumors concerning the Knights of Liberty. Working as a fraternal group, the Knights of Tabor have been concerned within the abolition motion whereas serving as cowl for the Knights of Liberty as a result of, as Dickson defined within the Tabor handbook: “We all know of the failure of Nat Turner and others, the Abolitionist within the North and East.”
Dickson and the Knights of Tabor’s first order of enterprise have been to radicalize the acquaintances he had met throughout his travels and free as many enslaved folks as potential. He helped increase hundreds for the Underground Railroad, even from slaveowners, and traveled the nation helping bondsmen to flee to freedom. When he heard that “no negro may escape” from America’s slave capital, Charleston, S.C., he and the Knights discovered a approach across the well-guarded metropolis by constructing a picket field and mailing an enslaved man to freedom in Massachusetts, the place he was ultimately given refuge and educated at Harvard.
When a Kentucky state consultant and newspaper writer was compelled to maneuver his publication to Ohio, Dickson personally obtained $1,000 from the previous slaveowner to fund actions on the Underground Railroad. Despite the fact that Dickson’s rich Kentucky politician buddy was one of many founders of the Republican Social gathering and was recognized for preventing (together with an incident the place he fought six pro-slavery advocates at one time), his namesake’s son turned much more well-known for his preventing abilities—Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.
After working in secret for years, the unique Knights of Liberty knew it was time to make their transfer. Dickson’s steamship buddies had stolen small shipments of name new firearms and distributed them throughout the nation to “42,000 males drilled and well-armed,” whereas different sources put the quantity at someplace between 47,240 and 150,000. “Plans have been full for a rising,” Dickson defined to the Denver Post in 1901. “[A] focus of the forces was ordered at Atlanta, GA. We anticipated to have practically 200,000 males after we reached Atlanta.”
Then, white folks went loopy.
Simply because the Knights had moved into place and have been ready for phrase from “the Chief,” it turned obvious struggle was imminent. As an alternative, Dickson instructed his Knights to hitch the Union Military, and Dickson fought in 16 Civil Warfare battles. “If the Warfare of the Riot had not occurred simply on the time it did,” defined Dickson, “the Knights of Liberty would have made public historical past.”
However the bloodiest struggle in American historical past didn’t cease Dickson from turning into some of the influential males in Black America. In 1866, he based the Missouri Equal Rights League and Lincoln University of Missouri, the primary traditionally Black school within the state. He helped create Missouri’s faculty system and recruited Black lecturers. When greater than 16,000 previously enslaved folks determined to remain in Missouri on their solution to Kansas as a part of the Exoduster motion, Moses Dickson’s Refugee Reduction Bord clothed and fed them. Sure, Moses Dickinson is without doubt one of the causes St. Louis is majority Black.
However maybe Dickson’s most essential legacy stays within the Knights of Tabor. After the struggle, the Knights of Tabor disbanded, and solely seven of the unique Knights of Liberty have been left. To honor them, he convened the 5 males’s temples and ladies’s tabernacles at a conference in 1872 to create the Nationwide Grand Temple and Tabernacle of the Order of Twelve, of Knights and Daughters of Tabor. This Masonic self-help group turned some of the essential organizations in Black America, boasting 100,000 members with chapters in 30 states, the Caribbean, England and Africa.
In 1942, the group constructed the Taborian Hospital in Mound Bayou, Miss., one of many nation’s oldest all-Black cities. Its chief surgeon, T.R.M. Howard, turned an lively chief within the civil rights motion and housed the journalists who helped observe down the witnesses to Emmitt Until’s homicide.
Though most of this story has been advised by Dickson, historians have been in a position to piece collectively his accounts to separate reality from legend. It seems Dickson’s story of the nationwide slave revolt is hidden between the pages of his Black contemporaries’ writings.
To be truthful, there may be one white man who knew concerning the Knights of Liberty.
On March 10, 1859, abolitionist John Brown hopped on an empty boxcar in West Liberty, Iowa, with a couple of followers and 12 self-freed males, ladies and youngsters who had been enslaved on three Missouri farms. A railroad engineer who was pleasant to the anti-slavery trigger hooked the boxcar between the engine and the categorical automotive of a prepare headed for Detroit. From there, the fugitive slaves would journey by ferry to Ontario, Canada. Simply earlier than the prepare crossed the Mississippi River, the prepare stopped in Davenport, Iowa, and John briefly disappeared. Two days later, after Brown had ferreted the boys to freedom, he determined to go to an outdated buddy.
A lot has been written about Brown’s visit with Frederick Douglass on March 12, 1859, and the time Brown met Harriet Tubman in Ontario. For some cause, neither Tubman nor Douglass may ever persuade Brown to surrender his plans to spark a race struggle by raiding the armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Whereas an prolonged account of Dickson’s life seems within the second quantity of The Story of the Negro, maybe the key plot for a race struggle is finest defined within the first quantity of Booker T. Washington’s notorious tome:
“Along with these I’ve already talked about, there may be proof that there was a reasonably well-organised physique of colored folks engaged within the Underground Railroad extending the entire size of the Nice Lakes from Detroit, Michigan, to Buffalo, New York. This organisation was often known as the “Liberty League.” Washington writes. “John Brown was properly acquainted with the members of this organisation and, when he held his well-known conference at Chatham, Canada, shortly earlier than the raid on Harpers Ferry, it was from the ranks of this organisation that he drew, possibly, the biggest variety of his members.”
Or, as Moses Dickson advised the Denver Submit:
“I noticed John Brown at Davenport simply earlier than he began for Harpers Ferry, and I attempted to dissuade him by telling him that the time had not but come, however he would go.”
Michael Harriot is a author, cultural critic and championship-level Spades participant. His guide, Black AF Historical past: The Unwhitewashed Story of America, shall be launched in 2022.
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