Behind the Freedman's Story

Who was "E.K."? Did William Parker really write The Freedman's Story? The story behind the story of escaped slave and militant black activist William Parker

Introduced by a mysterious editor (signing his name only as "E.K." and claiming to have received the manuscript "with the request that I would revise it for publication") the Freedman's Story has always been dogged by questions of authorship.

In the 1890s, two historians (M.G. McDougall and W.H. Siebert) speculated that Parker's story had in fact been written by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a frequent Atlantic contributor and antislavery activist. But correspondence in 1899 between Higginson and a journalist named W.U. Hensel who was working on an account of the Christiana Riot, makes clear that Higginson in fact knew few details about the event.

Later evidence suggests that the narrative represents a group effort by four black men at the office of The Provincial Freeman (a black newspaper based in Chatham, Canada), working closely with Parker to document his story. Diary entries by The Provincial Freeman's co-editor and publisher, Israel D. Shadd, make reference to work on the piece, along with the names of his co-authors. "These and other details," writes historian Jonathan Katz in his book Resistance at Christiana, "indicate that William Parker's story may be safely accepted as the authentic narrative of an early militant black leader."

As for "E.K.," the editor who served as an intermediary with the Atlantic, those initials are believed to have stood for "Edmund Kirke," the pen name of frequent Atlantic contributor and pro-Union activist James Gilmore.