Finalists Announced for the 2013 Frederick Douglass Book Prize

New Haven, Conn.— Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition has announced the finalists for the Fifteenth Annual Frederick Douglass Book Prize, one of the most coveted awards for the study of the African American experience. Jointly sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University, this annual prize of $25,000 recognizes the best book on slavery, resistance, and/or abolition.

The finalists are: Stephen Kantrowitz for More than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829–1889 (The Penguin Press); Sydney Nathans for To Free a Family: The Journey of Mary Walker (Harvard University Press); and Brett Rushforth for Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous & Atlantic Slaveries in New France (University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture).

The winner will be announced following the Douglass Prize Review Committee meeting in the fall, and the award will be presented at a celebration in New York City in February 2014.

This year’s finalists were selected from a field of nearly one hundred entries by a jury of scholars that included Gregory Downs, Chair (CUNY), Graham Hodges (Colgate University), and Stephanie Smallwood (University of Washington).

Stephen Kantrowitz’s More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829–1889 is a powerful story of the efforts of black Bostonians to work not just to end slavery but to construct a biracial and encompassing model of citizenship. The figures in his vivid biographies balance pragmatism and idealism; he shows their human struggle to weigh their hopes for the future against their sense of the possibilities of the present. The book connects antebellum and post-bellum scholarship as the struggles over education, access to public space, and political power before the Civil War helped shape the post-war vision of Reconstruction.

Sydney Nathans provides a biography of an extraordinary but little-known woman in To Free a Family: The Journey of Mary Walker. Raised on the vast Cameron family plantations in North Carolina, Walker left her children behind at age 30 to flee first into Philadelphia’s free black community and then into a network of anti-slavery activists in Boston and Cambridge. Based upon painstaking work in vast public and private archives, Nathans writes a sensitive exploration of Walker’s persistent struggles to free her children, her despair as her plans came to grief, and her continued strivings even after her family’s reunion. In the process we see multiple worlds laid out with enormous care. The book illuminates not just the individuals but the large historical events that shaped their lives.

InBonds of Alliance: Indigenous & Atlantic Slaveries in New France, Brett Rushforth offers a nuanced, supple, and convincing portrayal of the dynamic interactions between French colonists and Indian tribes. Indian enslavement proved to be a powerful tool for cementing alliances with tribes and constructing a New France. Most provocatively, Rushforth intertwines the story of Indian slavery with the better-known Atlantic slavery of Africans. Putting the hinterlands of New France in the context of French enslavement of Africans in the Caribbean, Rushforth explores the interconnection and fundamental differences between the two forms.

The Frederick Douglass Book Prize was established in 1999 to stimulate scholarship in the field by honoring outstanding accomplishments. Previous winners are Ira Berlin and Philip D. Morgan in 1999; David Eltis, 2000; David Blight, 2001; Robert Harms and John Stauffer, 2002; James F. Brooks and Seymour Drescher, 2003; Jean Fagan Yellin, 2004; Laurent Dubois, 2005; Rebecca J. Scott, 2006; Christopher Leslie Brown, 2007; Stephanie Smallwood, 2008; Annette Gordon-Reed, 2009; Siddharth Kara, Judith Carney, and Richard N. Rosomoff, 2010; Stephanie McCurry, 2011; and, James Sweet, 2012.

The award is named for Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), the one-time slave who escaped bondage to emerge as one of the great American abolitionists, reformers, writers, and orators of the nineteenth century.

The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, a part of The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University, was launched in November 1998 through a generous donation by philanthropists Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Its mission is to advance the study of all aspects of slavery and its destruction across all borders and time. The Center seeks to foster an improved understanding of the role of slavery, slave resistance, abolition, and their legacies in the founding of the modern world by promoting interaction and exchange between scholars, teachers, and public historians through publications, educational outreach, and other programs and events. For further information on events and programming, contact the Center by phone (203) 432-3339, fax (203) 432-6943, or e-mail gilder.lehrman.center@yale.edu.

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