Former slave honored with gravestone - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Former slave honored with gravestone

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

Here in an unmarked plot at Linwood Cemetery lies the remains of Ralph Montgomery, a man who was a slave.

nearly 150-years following his death, he's getting a gravestone. "He had the courage to leave the shackles of slavery, seek out a new life that held some shred of promise in the lead mines of Dubuque," said Kevin Lynch, Dubuque city council member.

Community members honoring his legacy, along with Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady. 

Montgomery was the subject of the very first Iowa Supreme Court case. He was originally born with the name Rafe Nelson, came to work in Dubuque's lead mines. He left Missouri agreeing to pay his slave master $550 plus interest to be free. After five years, he still couldn't afford to pay off the debt. 

He was then considered a fugitive, even bounty hunters were sent after him.

Montgomery showed courage and sued for his freedom. "In Dubuque, Iowa 177-years ago it was showing race relations at it's finest and access to justice," said Anthony Allen, president of the Dubuque Branch NAACP.

In their first case in 1839, the Iowa Supreme Court declared Montgomery a free man. 

He died nearly thirty years later.  he was first buried at the land now known as Jackson Park. Back then, it was the city cemetery.

Although his remains are part of the mass gravesite, he now has a monument.

Through donations, the Linwood Cemetery was able to raise money to buy Montgomery a monument. So far, 95-percent of the cost has been raised.

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