Night Boat to Freedom

Author:  Margot Theis Raven
Illustrator:  E. B. Lewis

What color is freedom tonight?

UnknownAs a young girl, Granny Judith was tempted onto a slave ship with a piece of pretty red cloth.  Now she’s become a master of dying and weaving cloth into beautiful quilts from squares of “freedom colors.”   These are colors that are worn by slaves who have been smuggled across the river from Kentucky to the free state of Ohio.   Because Granny Judith is unable to physically row the needy slaves to freedom, she enlists the help of twelve-year-old Christmas John.   To reassure him as he knows there are patrollers with whips and bloodhounds searching for run-away slaves, Granny Judith says, “What scares the head is best done with the heart.”

After each dangerous journey, Granny Judith is waiting for Christmas John to tell her what color the newly freed slave was wearing on their “Night Boat to Freedom.”  It is those colors that she then puts into her quilt.

Late one night she hands Christmas John a fine new shirt she’s woven and dyed.  “It’s your freedom color” – she smiled – ” ’cause tonight you’ve got to row yourself to safety.”

What will Christmas John do?
Will he leave Granny Judith and make his way to freedom?
Will he be caught trying to escape?

 This book  was inspired by true accounts in the WPA’s Slave Narrative Collection.  Night Boat to Freedom is like Granny Judith’s quilt: patches of truth stitched together by voices alive with history.

1. How would you describe the relationship between Granny Judith and Christmas John?

2. What does the phrase, “What color is freedom tonight?” mean?

3. What could have resulted if Christmas John hadn’t had ground-up Indian turnip pouches late one night?

Mary Byrne Kline




  1. Wow…what a great review. This book sounds so inspiring!

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