Thursday, April 21, 2011


"Taking Slavery to Court: Black and White Struggles over Freedom in Antebellum Missouri"

Date: Tuesday, April 26
Time: 3:00 PM (seating starts at 2:30 PM)-- light refreshments will be served afterwards
Location: The Jesse Wrench Auditorium in Memorial Union at UM-Columbia Campus

Dr. Kenneth H. Winn, Director of Library and Public Services at the Missouri Supreme Court and Senior Lecturer in American Culture Studies at Washington University, will talk about struggles over freedom in Missouri.

Coerced into slavery through violence, slaves resisted their enslavement in countless different ways-from breaking their tools to running away. One path largely overlooked until recently concerns slaves who demanded their freedom through the legal system. The fact that the white legal system allowed hundreds of slaves, often representing families, to file these freedom suits is amazing. Possibly even more amazing; the majority of slave plaintiffs won their case. The most famous of these suits was Dred Scott's case, whose losing suit brought the nation closer to civil war. Still, if Scott's case was the most historically significant, it was hardly the most dramatic. When slaves challenged their masters it took enormous courage. The enmity of rich powerful men, often motivated by a fierce proslavery belief that overshadowed the financial value of any slave, often led to a ruthless opposition to these brave quests for freedom. Beatings and broken families often awaited slaves who lost their case.

This talk provides an introductory overview of over three hundred of these cases, most newly discovered, and now assembled at the Missouri State Archives--St. Louis which is the nation's single largest repository of slave freedom suits. In a federally-funded multi-year project Washington University in St. Louis is now transcribing, digitizing, and creating specialized tools that will allow Internet users to ask new questions about slaves and slave masters, gender, slave law, urban slave life, and slavery and western migration, among other topics.

The State Historical Society of Missouri
1020 Lowry Street
Columbia, MO 65201
Phone (573) 882-7083
Toll-free (800) 747-6366
Fax (573) 884-4950

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