Antebellum black communities in the upper Midwest emerge from the mists of history.
By 1860, more than 63,000 African-Americans were living in the five states carved out of the old Northwest Territory, mostly in small farming communities. Many had moved there from the South and East during the territorial period seeking good land and the considerable freedoms guaranteed by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. As the states from Ohio to Wisconsin were established, the black pioneers' legal status deteriorated as these "free" states stripped them of one legal right after another. While many of them prospered financially, their success proved both a rebuke to the notion that blacks were inherently incapable of thriving on their own and a temptation to their rapacious white neighbors. Greed, racial hatred, and the effects of the fugitive slave laws too often combined to produce incidents of harrowing violence. Cox (A Stronger Kinship: One Town's Extraordinary Story of Hope and Faith, 2006, etc.), a fellow at Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, sets out to illuminate the experience of this community, the very existence of which has been generally overlooked or denied. Extensive endnotes attest to the thorough and diligent scholarship underlying her account. Along the way, however, the author appears to have been captivated by the stories of some of the families whose circumstances illustrate her thesis. She imagines their daily lives in detail—the rooster crowing as they pause in morning chores to admire the sunrise—and muses on what they may have been thinking or discussing; indeed, Cox often indulges in guesses about what her subjects could have done, might have thought, and must have known. The account thus often teeters on the edge of historical fiction. The prose style is more suitable for young adult readers than for scholars, and the author sometimes lapses into overwrought, florid passages.
A scholarly study with a young adult novel trapped inside and struggling to escape.