2019 Harriet Tubman Prize Finalists
The Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery is pleased to announce the finalists of the annual Harriet Tubman Prize. In October, the prize of $7,500 will be awarded to the best nonfiction book published in the United States on the slave trade, slavery, and anti-slavery in the Atlantic World in 2018.
A Readers Committee of scholars and librarians selected the three finalists: R.J.M. Blackett’s The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery (Cambridge University Press); Kevin Dawson’s Undercurrents of Power: Aquatic Culture in the African Diaspora (University Press of Pennsylvania); and Jessica Krug’s Fugitive Modernities: Kisama and the Politics of Freedom (Duke University Press).
In The Captive’s Quest for Freedom, R.J.M. Blackett close reads diverse sources ranging from government documents to personal accounts, to trace 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.
Kevin Dawson’s Undercurrents of Power argues that histories of slavery have largely chronicled the fields of the New World, whether tobacco, sugar, indigo, rice, or cotton. However, most plantations were located near waterways to facilitate the transportation of goods to market, and large numbers of agricultural slaves had ready access to water in which to sustain their abilities and interests. Swimming and canoeing provided respite from the monotony of agricultural bondage and brief moments of bodily privacy. In some instances, enslaved laborers exchanged their aquatic expertise for unique privileges, including wages, opportunities to work free of direct white supervision, and even in rare circumstances, freedom. Dawson builds his analysis around a discussion of African traditions and the ways in which similar traditions—swimming, diving, boat making, even surfing—emerged within African diasporic communities. Undercurrents of Power not only chronicles the experiences of enslaved maritime workers, but also traverses the waters of the Atlantic repeatedly to trace and untangle cultural and social traditions.
In Fugitive Modernities, Jessica Krug offers a continent- and century-spanning narrative exploring Kisama’s intellectual, political, and social histories. Those who became Kisama forged a transnational reputation for resistance, and by refusing to organize their society around warrior identities, they created viable social and political lives beyond the bounds of states and the ruthless market economy of slavery. Krug follows the idea of Kisama to the Americas, where fugitives in the New Kingdom of Grenada (present-day Colombia) and Brazil used it as a means of articulating politics in fugitive slave communities. By tracing the movement of African ideas, rather than African bodies, Krug models new methods for grappling with politics and the past, while showing how the history of Kisama and its legacy as a global symbol of resistance that has evaded state capture offers essential lessons for those working to build new and just societies.
Congratulations to the finalists! The winner will be chosen by a Selection Committee and announced during the 2019 Lapidus Center Conference, which will be held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City on October 10-12, 2019.