2020 Harriet Tubman Prize Winner!

The Schomburg Center Announces the Winner of the Lapidus Center’s 2020 Harriet Tubman Prize


Dr. Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, author of They Were Her Property, receives $7,500 prize

November 23, 2020—The Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is pleased to announce that Dr. Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers is the winner of the 2020 Harriet Tubman Prize for her book They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South (Yale University Press, 2019). The Harriet Tubman Prize awards $7,500 to the best nonfiction book published in the United States on the slave trade, slavery, and anti-slavery in the Atlantic World.

A jury of prominent historians including Drs. Ed Baptist, Kevin Dawson, and Yuko Miki selected the winner from three finalists chosen by a national committee of librarians and scholars.

“While many recent studies discuss connections between slavery and emergent American capitalism, They Were Her Property reveals especially clearly the relationship between white wealth and Black reproductive labor,” the jury said.

Jones-Rogers’ book focuses on the interaction between white women and the enslaved children, women, and men whom they used as property. Far from being reluctant enslavers trapped in a patriarchal world, ‘plantation mistresses’ actively managed and owned enslaved people—and not only as workers in the households and fields of the pre-Civil War South.

In fact, Jones-Rogers reveals, they owned Black people as capital in the active sense: bringing them into marriages as inheritance; buying, mortgaging, and selling them for maximum property; scheming on their value and revenue; using them as leverage against problematic husbands.

White women calculated the reproductive labor of enslaved people, both for building up their own proper households and as multivalent sources of profit…As white women struggled to impose their will, enslaved people fought back, argued, struggled, and above all, critiqued those who used them as property.

Jones-Rogers’ careful, critical readings of those Works Project Administration (WPA) narratives, as well as plantation records, the diaries and other writings of white women, and other sources fill her book with the immediacy of this history. She centers the enslaved people in them to highlight the critiques they levied against the white women who exploited them. She reads these sources, above all, as the most honest appraisals of the ways in which women of the slave owner class built their own prosperity and status out of the exploitation of others. Ultimately, those who survived intervened in history by telling their stories.

Jones-Rogers communicates their voices and the broader argument of They Were Her Property with admirable clarity. She deftly weaves together narrative and analysis while always centering her sources.”

“As a descendent of enslaved people and the granddaughter of North Carolina sharecroppers, it is a profound honor to receive the 2020 Harriet Tubman Prize,” Dr. Jones-Rogers said. “When I became a historian, I committed myself to honoring them, dignifying their memories, and doing justice to their experiences in and with the stories I tell. I heartily thank the judges and the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery for recognizing my devotion to this important work.”

Dr. Michelle D. Commander, associate director and curator of the Lapidus Center, remarked about this year’s prize winner, “A well-researched and thoughtfully rendered book, They Were Her Property makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the complex intersections between gender, race, and class during slavery in the United States. I am thrilled for Dr. Jones-Rogers and delighted that her fine work is receiving the recognition it deserves.”

Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley.

The 2020 Harriet Tubman Prize will be presented to Dr. Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers in early-2021 during a virtual event. Details are forthcoming.


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