Finding Freedom at the Corner of Booth and Glover

by Langston M. Verdin-Williams

Streets are named after presidents, respected individuals, cities, states, or simply numbers, but two intersecting Riverwest streets share a special connection to each other and hold special meaning for Milwaukee. In 1857, the city of Milwaukee named a street after a local abolitionist, Sherman Booth. Eight years ago, it named an intersecting street after the runaway slave he helped to freedom. To understand this story, one must go back further than 1857. In 1793, the government passed a series of laws, known as the Fugitive Slave Laws, regarding slavery and the return of runaway slaves to their owners. The law stated that slave catchers were to be allowed to go across state lines to find and return runaway slaves to their owners without interference from local authorities. Up until the late 1840s, enforcing the fugitive slave laws was not a major problem. Soon, Northern states trying to halt the slave catchers and deny the enforcement of the fugitive laws created “liberty laws,” which they viewed as overriding the national laws. This vehemently upset southern slave holders who viewed their slaves as valuable property. With these issues pulling the nation apart, concerns about enforcement of the fugitive slave laws were taken to Congress once again. With help from border slave states, the Compromise of 1850 created the Fugitive Slave Act. This act was put in place to force northern states to enforce the fugitive slave laws of 1793. The new act also modified the old law; now U.S. Marshals would have to catch fugitive slaves and local governments had to help them. Once caught, the accused slave was sent to jail and went to trial; however, he or she was not allowed to testify. A new stipulation in the law also stated that upon the verdict, the court was given $5 for every black that they deemed to be a free person, but $10 for every black they deemed to be a fugitive slave. Supposedly this was due to the extra amount of paper work involved when saying a freed black was actually a fugitive slave. In March of 1854 a fugitive slave from Missouri named Joshua Glover was captured in Racine and brought to the Milwaukee Jail. The next day, Sherman Booth got word of the capture, gathered 100 men from Racine, and obtained a warrant for the slave catchers’ arrest. The men came to Milwaukee and broke into the jail (without resistance from local authorities) and rescued Glover. Glover was sent to Waukesha for safety, then later to Canada. In 1994, a group of Riverside University High School students successfully campaigned to have the name of a segment of Reservoir Street that intersects with Booth Street changed to Glover Avenue — bringing these two men together, once again. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 1 – January 2003