Dr. Richard Blackett
Andrew Jackson, Professor of History Emeritus, Vanderbilt University
Richard Blackett is a historian of the abolitionist movement in the US and particularly its transatlantic connections and the roles African Americans played in the movement to abolish slavery. He has published books on the movement, including his first: Building an Anti-Slavery Wall. Black Americans in the Atlantic Abolitionist Movement, 1830-1860, (1983). His most recent book is Samuel Ringgold Ward. A Life of Struggle (2023) and The Captive’s Quest for Freedom. Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery (2018). He has taught courses in American, African-American, and Caribbean history. He has taught at the University of Pittsburgh, Indiana University, University of Houston, and Vanderbilt University. In 2013-14, he was Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University.
February 17, 2024
Making Freedom: Fugitive Slaves and the Coming of the Civil War
9:45 AM – 10:45 AM
Although marginalized, oppressed, and persecuted, formerly enslaved African Americans impacted the politics of scale and determined the trajectory of the slavery debate in the United States. Dr. Blackett highlights the lives of those who escaped, the impact of the fugitive slave cases, and the extent to which slaves planning to escape were aided by free blacks, fellow slaves, and outsiders who went south to entice them to escape. Using these stories of particular individuals, moments, and communities, Blackett shows how slave flight shaped national politics as the South witnessed slavery beginning to collapse and the North experienced a threat to its freedom.
Making Freedom: The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Slavery
Blackett highlights the lives of those who escaped, the impact of the fugitive slave cases, and the extent to which slaves planning to escape were aided by free blacks, fellow slaves, and outsiders who went south to entice them to escape. Using these stories of particular individuals, moments, and communities, Blackett shows how slave flight shaped national politics as the South witnessed slavery beginning to collapse and the North experienced a threat to its freedom.
Samuel Ringgold Ward: A Life of Struggle
Samuel Ringgold Ward (1817–c. 1869) was born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He escaped from enslavement and became a prominent figure in the fight for Black freedom, citizenship, and equality. Frederick Douglass, his contemporary, praised him for his “depth of thought, fluency of speech, readiness of wit, logical exactness.” Despite his crucial role in the abolitionist movement, Ward’s story has been overlooked because of his time in exile. In his book, R. J. M. Blackett sheds light on Ward’s life and his significant contribution to the fight against slavery and discrimination, as well as the personal price he paid for standing up against oppression.
Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War
Divided Hearts explores the passionate political strife that raged in Britain as a result of the American Civil War. Moving beyond Mary Ellison’s 1972 landmark regional study of Lancashire cotton workers’ reactions, R. J. M. Blackett opens the subject to a new, wider transatlantic context of influence and undertakes a deftly researched and written sociological, intellectual, and political examination of who in Britain supported the Union, who the Confederacy, and why.
The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery
This magisterial study, ten years in the making by one of the field’s most distinguished historians, will be the first to explore the impact fugitive slaves had on the politics of the critical decade leading up to the Civil War. Through the close reading of diverse sources ranging from government documents to personal accounts, Richard J. M. Blackett traces the decisions of slaves to escape, the actions of those who assisted them, the many ways black communities responded to the capture of fugitive slaves, and how local laws either buttressed or undermined enforcement of the federal law. Every effort to enforce the law in northern communities produced levels of subversion that generated national debate so much so that, on the eve of secession, many in the South, looking back on the decade, could argue that the law had been effectively subverted by those individuals and states who assisted fleeing slaves.