William and Ellen Craft’s escape from enslavement is one of the most innovative and unique plans ever executed. Now, their epic story will be told on the big screen. Alloy Entertainment is producing the film and has tapped screenwriter Suzanne Allain to adapt the Craft’s memoir, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom.
Married while held in bondage, William and Ellen Craft devised an ingenious plan of escape. The fair-skinned Ellen Craft could pass as white. Cutting her hair to neck length and donning traditional male slave holder’s clothing, Mrs. Craft disguised herself as a white man, while Mr. Craft took on the guise of her personal valet. To hide her illiteracy and deflect suspicion, Mrs. Craft wrapped her right arm in a sling so she wouldn’t have to write, and she often feigned sickness to keep conversations short. Traveling on boats and trains, the couple escaped in plain sight from Georgia to the free state of Pennsylvania, arriving on Christmas Day.
Upon their arrival, the Crafts became prominent abolitionists. William Craft told the story of their great flight to audiences, and pictures showcasing Mrs. Craft dressed in her escape guise were distributed by abolitionists in their campaign against slavery. The couple settled in Boston, but their right to freedom became endangered after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
No longer safe in the United States, the couple fled to England. While in England, the Crafts started their family, had five children and published Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom in 1860. They returned to Georgia in 1870 and started the Woodville Co-ooperative Farm School to educate and employ free Blacks.
The Crafts’ story holds a unique place in American history. This film can show how their escape from enslavement played into and took advantage of societal rules and expectations of enslaved Blacks in a white patriarchal power structure. A lot of their daring plan hinged on Mrs. Craft’s multi-faceted ability to pass as a white man. This film can explore questions of not just race but show Black intelligence and a committed Black couple during the enslavement period, when many families were destroyed.
News of this film adaptation also comes as several upcoming projects — Underground and Birth of a Nation — mine the same time period, and explore Black revolution in the face of racial injustice. The paramount rallying cry for Black Americans has been “Black Lives Matter.”
Running a Thousand Miles For Freedom and other productions that explore enslavement show the innate need for Black people to fight for their voice, justice and equality. The Crafts showed that this fight can be daring, innovative and unique.