Profs & Pints Online: When the Enslaved Sued

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End: February 24, 2021
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Profs and Pints Online presents: “When the Enslaved Sued,” on the inspiring stories of Black families who sought to escape slavery by going to court, with William G. Thomas III, professor of history at the University of Nebraska and author of A Question of Freedom.
[ This talk remains available in recorded form only through March 3, 2021.]
Conventional wisdom holds that prior to the Civil War about the only route to freedom for enslaved Black Americans was through daring nighttime escapes and long journeys North via the Underground Railroad. What’s less well known is that several enslaved families fought for their freedom by going to court. Moreover, some of them prevailed.
Learn about this fascinating wrinkle in American history from Professor William Thomas, who meticulously researched such litigation and the personal stories behind it for his well-reviewed new book A Question of Freedom: The Families Who Challenged Slavery From the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War.
The talk, like the book, will focus on enslaved families in Prince George’s County, Maryland, who brought lawsuits against some of the most influential people in Maryland and Washington D.C.—including the Jesuits of Georgetown, members of Congress, and prominent federal judges. Among their lawyers was Francis Scott Key, who argued for the Queen family before the U.S. Supreme Court, with the result being the landmark Queen v. Hepburn decision.