There are heroes, and there are villains:
The defendant in the case was John Mann, a North Carolinian who had been renting a slave named Lydia. When she committed a trifling offense, Mann whipped her. During the whipping, Lydia attempted to escape, so Mann shot her, gravely wounding her. North Carolina authorities deemed his response to her escape attempt disproportionate and charged him with assault and battery. In the criminal trial, the jury ruled against him. He appealed, claiming that assault on a slave by her master could not be indictable since a slave was property of her master.
Ruffin concluded that “the power of the master must be absolute, to render the submission of the slave perfect.” He argued that inhuman punishment of slaves was indeed legal in North Carolina.
Before you say, "But that was the law of the land back then" or something along those lines, both the local authorities *and* a jury deemed his actions were criminal. There is some evidence that suggests Mann was not well respected in the community, and his jury conviction may have had more to do with getting rid of a local nuisance than concern over the slave's injuries. But I also can't help noticing that John Mann was *not* the owner of Lydia, he was merely renting her. Which sounds absurd enough. The slave's real owner was a teenage girl, whose uncle rented out Lydia to whoever could pay. But apparently none of that mattered to Ruffin, which is one more reason to pull those portraits down. Note: the portrait hanging right behind Chief Justice Beasley in the above photo is of Thomas Ruffin...