Created by the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University’s MacMillan Center in conjunction with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the Frederick Douglass Book Prize was established to stimulate scholarship in the field of slavery and abolition by honoring outstanding books on the subject. The award is named for Frederick Douglass, the slave who escaped bondage to become one of the great American abolitionists and writers of the 19th century.
This year’s prize, its 20th, was awarded to two scholars: Erica Armstrong Dunbar for Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge and Tiya Miles for The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits.
Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
When George Washington was elected president, he reluctantly left behind his beloved Mount Vernon to serve in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of the nation’s capital. In setting up his household he brought along nine slaves, including Ona Judge. As the President grew accustomed to Northern ways, there was one change he couldn’t abide: Pennsylvania law required enslaved people be set free after six months of residency in the state. Rather than comply, Washington decided to circumvent the law. Every six months he sent the slaves back down south just as the clock was about to expire.
Though Ona Judge lived a life of relative comfort, she was denied freedom. So, when the opportunity presented itself one clear and pleasant spring day in Philadelphia, Judge left everything she knew to escape to New England. Yet freedom would not come without its costs. At just twenty-two-years-old, Ona became the subject of an intense manhunt led by George Washington, who used his political and personal contacts to recapture his property.
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The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits by Tiya Miles
A brilliant paradigm-shifting book that “transports the reader back to the eighteenth century and brings to life a multiracial community that began in slavery” (The New York Times), The Dawn of Detroit reveals for the first time that slavery was at the heart of the Midwest’s iconic city. Hailed by Publishers Weekly in a starred review as “a necessary work of powerful, probing scholarship,” The Dawn of Detroit meticulously uncovers the experience of the unfree—both native and African American—in a place wildly remote yet at the center of national and international conflict.
Tiya Miles has skillfully assembled fragments of a distant historical record, introducing new historical figures and unearthing struggles that remained hidden from view until now. “In her eloquent account,” the Washington Post declared, “Miles conjures up a city of stark disparity and lives quashed.”
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