Grateful American Kids

From Sukey to Cece: Enslaved Through the Ages

Written by Devine Chepape and Illustrated by Ellie Robinson For the series A BOOK by ME
True Stories Written by Kids for Kids

This is the story of two women whose lives fell into the wrong hands. Very early in their lives, men violated them instead of loving and caring for them. Sukey was born enslaved in the south in the 1800s and found her freedom in the cornfields of Illinois. Cece was abandoned at birth in Chicago, Illinois and found a different freedom in the cornfields of Illinois. Young author Devine Chepape learned about both the slavery of old and sex trafficking of today, which affects women and men of all colors all around the world. Devine and young illustrator Ellie are sharing what they’ve learned with teen readers.

“Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.” – President Abraham Lincoln

The book is available on Amazon.

This storybook was written with a PG13 rating for use in middle and high school classrooms. Young author Devine Chepape from South Africa came to the United States as part of the U.S. State Department program called YES, a scholarship program for students in developing countries. While living in Illinois, Devine and other students visited Knox County where abolitionists came to help runaway slaves find freedom using the Underground Railroad. She learned about a runaway slave girl named Sukey who had been enslaved her entire life. As she fell in love with the courage and grit of this young woman, she got the revelation that slavery didn’t end during the Civil War. In fact, it’s at an all time high worldwide with human trafficking, including sex trafficking.

Devine met Cece at a church built by the abolitionists who helped Sukey. As Cece told an audience her story, Devine’s heart was broken for the two women, Sukey and Cece. Both lost control over their lives at a young age and both had children by men who abused them but found it in their hearts to love those children anyway. Also, both women became abolitionists to help other men and women who cannot help themselves.

Susan “Aunt Sukey” Van Allan Richardson
Cellia “Cece” Rodriguez

The Underground Railroad was a network of good people who helped thousands of slaves on their journey north to freedom. These people wanted to stop slavery and were called abolitionists. One of the most famous stories in Illinois from the days of the Underground Railroad is that of Susan “Aunt Sukey” Van Allan Richardson. This woman miraculously went from being a slave to a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Illinois was a free state, but the authorities in southern Illinois allowed slavery because they were so close to Kentucky where slavery was a big part of the economy. A man from Randolph County in Illinois, named Andrew Borders, owned Sukey and her three children. Her oldest son was a teenager who got into a fight with the master’s son. Border’s wife was angry and insisted Sukey’s son be beaten the following day. Susan overheard this conversation and decided to run away with her children and another slave woman named Hannah. They went to the home of William Hayes who lived nearby. He was well known for being anti-slavery so, using Hayes as their guide, five runaway slaves fled north on September 1, 1842. Most likely they first traveled by boat on the Illinois River before moving north on foot.

Many kind people in the Underground Railroad helped them along the way, but eventually they were caught hiding in a cornfield and sent to the Knox County Jail. Mr. Borders heard about their capture and came to claim all but Hannah. However, local abolitionists demanded proof that the slaves belonged to Borders, so he went back home to get the papers. The sheriff in Knoxville released the prisoners, ordering them not to leave the area. Sukey found a job doing laundry, and her older son was working on a farm when Borders returned to claim them. Sheriff Peter Frans helped round up Sukey’s children, and Borders hoped Sukey would go home with them. But, Sukey’s abolitionist friends talked her into staying with them. They disguised her and took her away on a sleigh to nearby Galesburg, where prominent citizens such as George Washington Gale fought on Sukey’s behalf. Galesburg was founded by abolitionists who came from upstate New York. Galesburg is a unique place since, for the first 20 years of its existence, the majority of her citizens opposed slavery.

Judge Stephen Douglas would become famous in the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. He was admitted to the state bar in Illinois in March 1834 and was the judge for Sukey’s trial. While she was allowed to stay in Knox County, her children were to go with Borders. William Hayes looked for any documents to prove their indentures were not valid, and he tried to raise money to buy them. Despite his efforts, Sukey never saw her children again. Sukey became a resident of Galesburg. She married Henry Van Allen in 1846 and they had a daughter Eveline in 1847, a daughter Mary in 1848 and a son Owen in 1849. After her husband’s death, she married Thomas Richardson in 1857. Sukey was a founder of the first black church in Galesburg and became a conductor of the Underground Railroad. In her later years, she moved to Chicago to live with her daughter. This is where she died, but she was buried in her beloved Galesburg.

Sadly, slavery in the South was not abolished in 1865. Sex slavery, and other forms, are still prevalent today. Congress appointed a commission in 1907 to investigate the problem of immigrant prostitutes. The commission discovered that many were brought to America for sexual slavery, and immigrant men were luring American girls into prostitution. The Mann Act (known as the White-Slave Traffic Act) is a federal law that criminalizes the transportation of “any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purposes.” This act was passed in June of 1910 and named after Illinois Congressman James R. Mann. It was aimed at prostitution, immorality and human trafficking.

Today, research shows that no country is immune from human trafficking. Victims are forced into prostitution or into work in sweatshops, on farms, as domestics, as child soldiers, and in many forms of involuntary servitude. Traffickers often target children and young women. Victims are tricked with promises of employment, educational opportunities, marriage and a better life. Human trafficking is the third most profitable criminal activity, after drug sales and arms trafficking. An estimated $9.5 billion is generated in annual revenue from all trafficking activities, with at least $4 billion attributed to the worldwide brothel industry. Each year, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are being brought across international borders against their will; 70 percent are female, and 50 percent are children. They are people of all colors, and the majority of these victims are forced into the commercial sex trade.

Organizations exist around the world to work with law enforcement to free survivors of human trafficking and exploitation. Similar to days of the old Underground Railroad, there are safe homes where these women who were once sex slaves are placed to heal. There are more people in slavery today than at any other time in history. More than 40 million people around the world are known to be victims of modern slavery, including millions in forced labor or in forced marriages.

One safe home is within 60 miles of where Sukey lived in Galesburg many years ago. Through a faith-based program, room and board are provided for women for one year at no charge. With a support system in place, they are helped to relocate and become independent. Cellia “CeCe” Rodriquez from Chicago is a graduate of this program. Women (18 years old or more) from all walks of life come to The Farm after finding themselves facing such things as drugs, alcohol, prostitution, sex trafficking, etc. After an interview, if this faith based program is a good fit, women are given an opportunity to start a new life. For more information call our HOTLINE at (716) 646-8253.

Author Devine Chepape

Author Devine with Abe Lincoln


Cellia Rodriguez & Young author Devine Chepape

Illustrator Ellie Robinson

Illinois map – Randolph County, IL to Knox County, IL was Sukey’s journey on foot with her teenage son and two younger sons.


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