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Performing Freedom: Strategies of Escaping Slavery in the Slaveholding South

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Joseph C. Miller Memorial Lecture Series: Lecture by Damian Pargas, Leiden University

Event details
  • Lecture
When Jun 29, 2020
from 16:00 to 18:00
Where Online via Zoom
Contact Name Jan Hörber
Contact Email
Contact Phone +492287362946
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Slave flight in the antebellum US South did not always coincide with the political geography of freedom. Indeed, spaces and places within the South attracted the largest number of fugitive slaves, especially southern cities, where runaway slaves attempted to "pass" for free blacks. This entailed literally "performing freedom" in an otherwise rigid slave Society – changing their names and dress, acquiring false documentation, and intermingling with free society. Fugitive slaves in southern cities attempted to escape slavery by crafting clandestine lives in "informal" freedom – a freedom that did not exist on paper and had no legal underpinnings, but that existed in practice, in the shadows.

This talk will explore how fugitive slaves attempted to pass for free in urban areas in the US South. It will also consider similar practices in other regions and time periods in order to underscore the broader importance of (in)visibility in the functioning of slave societies.

Damian Pargas is Professor of North American History and Culture at Leiden University, as well as Executive Director of the Roosevelt Institute for American Studies in Middelburg, Netherlands. His research focuses mainly on the history of slavery in North America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

He is the author of several articles on slavery, three edited volumes, and two monographs, namely: The Quarters and the Fields: Slave Families in the Non-Cotton South (University Press of Florida, 2010); and Slavery and Forced Migration in the Antebellum South (Cambridge University Press, 2014). At present he is working on a third monograph on fugitive slaves in North America between 1775 and 1860, which will be published by Cambridge University Press. Pargas is also co-founder of the Leiden Slavery Studies Association, founder and chief editor of the Journal of Global Slavery, and co-editor of the book series Studies in Global Slavery (published by Brill).

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