Former slave Henrietta Wood wasn’t going to forgive and forget. She wanted retribution against her enslavers. So in 1870 Wood sued for reparations and won. In fact, the $2,500 verdict in her case was the largest ever of its kind.
With so many of the 2020 presidential candidates discussing reparations, Wood’s case shows that it is doable.
While the case took eight long years to make it to court Wood held steadfast in her fight. And on April 17, 1878, 12 white jurors in a federal courtroom in Cincinnati, Ohio, delivered the verdict. Wood sued Zebulon Ward, a white man who had enslaved her 25 years before. She was seeking $20,000 in reparations.
Born a slave in Kentucky, Wood testified that she had been granted her freedom in Cincinnati in 1848. Five years later, she said she was kidnapped by Ward, who sold her.
She ended up enslaved on a Texas plantation until after the Civil War. She finally returned to Cincinnati in 1869, a free woman. She had not forgotten Ward and sued him the following year, The Smithsonian Magazine reported.
When issuing the verdict, the jury foreperson said: “We, the Jury in the above entitled cause, do find for the plaintiff and assess her damages in the premises at Two thousand five hundred dollars.”
Altthough this was a lot less than what Wood was suing for, the judgment amount is still the largest known sum ever granted by a U.S. court in restitution for slavery.
Written by Ann Brown