2020 Frederick Douglass Book Prize Finalists

Frederick Douglass
October 2, 2020

The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at the MacMillan Center has announced the finalists for its 22nd 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 of American History and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at the MacMillan Center at Yale University, this annual prize of $25,000 recognizes the best book on slavery, resistance, and/or abolition published in the preceding year. 

The finalists are Kellie Carter Jackson for “Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence” (University of Pennsylvania Press); Keila Grinberg for “A Black Jurist in a Slave Society: Antonio Pereira Rebouças and the Trials of Brazilian Citizenship” (University of North Carolina Press); Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers for “They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South” (Yale University Press); and Sophie White for “Voices of the Enslaved: Love, Labor, and Longing in French Louisiana” (University of North Carolina Press). 

The winner will be announced following the Douglass Prize Review Committee meeting later this fall, and the award will be presented in February 2021. 

A jury of scholars that included Jane Landers (Chair) of Vanderbilt University, Roquinaldo Ferreira of the University of Pennsylvania, and Martha Jones of Johns Hopkins University selected this year’s finalists from a field of more than 60 nominations. The jury’s descriptions of those works follow. 

Kellie Carter Jackson, “Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence” 

This powerful book changes the way we understand Black abolitionists who went beyond moral suasion and beyond politics to employ violence in the interest of the slaves’ cause. It illuminates the role of women as key figures in the abolitionist struggle who not only provided financial support but also advocated using violence as a tool of black liberation. The book portrays these abolitionists as astute geopolitical actors who viewed the Haitian revolution and episodes of slave resistance in the United States as historical examples of a revolutionary tradition that provided inspiration and merited emulation. This book brilliantly illuminates the critical link between anti-slavery activism and the civil war struggle that brought about abolition. 

Keila Grinberg, “A Black Jurist in a Slave Society: Antonio Pereira Rebouças and the Trials of Brazilian Citizenship” 

Through extensive research in the national archives, Grinberg reconstructs the life of Brazil’s famous black jurist, André Rebouças, to examine slavery and citizenship in nineteenth century Brazil. Grinberg demonstrates how probing the contours of one life can open up an entire world Rebouças was a free, educated, and well-connected intellectual, lawyer and advisor to the Emperor, who failed to speak out against slavery but pushed for full citizenship for free Afro-Brazilians. By analyzing Rebouças’s life trajectory, Grinberg paints a broad canvas of Brazilian society and the sometime contradictory and unexpected positions Afro-Brazilians held on the institution. Readers get a fresh understanding of how race simultaneously was and was not at the center of building Brazil’s post-emancipation society. A special recognition to translator Kristin McGuire, whose translation has brought Keila Grinberg’s groundbreaking 2002 work to an English-speaking audience. 

Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, “They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South” 

This book draws on a variety of sources including court documents and newspapers to create a piercing indictment of the role of white women in slavery, oppression, and white supremacy in the United States. It directly challenges narratives that viewed white women as passive bystanders or just complicit in the systemic violence against enslaved people. The wealth and status of slaveholding women rested upon property in persons in a system that defied the gender of law and custom. Told from the perspective of enslaved people themselves, the book shatters any remaining sense that the interests of slaveholding women diverged from those of their fathers and husbands. Slaveholding was family business; it was women’s business. The author skillfully deploys the enslaved voice to build a damning profile of white women while also portraying them as economic players in the economic order of slavery. 

Sophie White, “Voices of the Enslaved: Love, Labor, and Longing in French Louisiana” 

This gracefully written book stitches together widely dispersed archival shards and trial records from the Louisiana Superior Council to richly recover enslaved voices. White argues that using French courts, enslaved people, even women, could create their own narratives of life under captivity. White argues that these “parallel narratives” shaped the course of deliberation in the court. The book recreates the lives of the enslaved in French New Orleans as well as in its hinterlands in the Illinois country, paying attention to the diversity of their African backgrounds. White has a keen eye for evidence derived from material and visual culture, and also draws extensively on literature on non-verbal communication. To provide context for Louisiana court cases, White includes examples from other parts of the French empire, including Martinique, Mauritius and the Reunion islands, effectively bridging the gap between Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Her book is a tribute to the power of the archives and the lives they reluctantly reveal. 

The Frederick Douglass Book Prize was established by the Gilder Lehrman Institute and Gilder Lehrman Center in 1998 (first awarded 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; Seymour Drescher and James F. Brooks, 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; James H. Sweet, 2012; Sydney Nathans, 2013; Christopher Hager, 2014; Ada Ferrer, 2015; Jeff Forret, 2016; Manisha Sinha, 2017; Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Tiya Miles, 2018; and Amy Murrell Taylor, 2019. 

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, which is supported by 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, and to find out how you can support the continuing work of the GLC, visit https://glc.yale.edu/ or contact the Center by phone at (203) 432-3339 or e-mail gilder.lehrman.center@yale.edu. 

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History was founded in 1994 by Richard Gilder and Lewis E. Lehrman, visionaries and lifelong supporters of American history education. The institute is the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to K-12 history education while also serving the general public. With a focus on primary sources, the Gilder Lehrman Institute illuminates the stories, people, and moments that inspire students of all ages and backgrounds to learn and understand more about history. Through a diverse portfolio of education programs, including the acclaimed Hamilton Education Program, the Gilder Lehrman Institute provides opportunities for more than five million students, 50,000 teachers, and 27,000 schools worldwide. The Institute’s programs have been recognized by awards from the White House, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Organization of American Historians. For further information, visit gilderlehrman.org or call (646) 366-9666.