Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South

By Kimberly M. Welch

328 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 13 halftones, 1 map, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3643-6
    Published: February 2018
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3645-0
    Published: January 2018
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5915-2
    Published: February 2020

John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture

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Awards & distinctions

2019 Cromwell Prize, American Society for Legal History

2018 James H. Broussard Best First Book Prize, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic

Co-Winner of the 2019 J. Willard Hurst Prize, Law & Society Association

2018 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Legal History, Langum Charitable Trust

2019 Vanderbilt University Chancellor's Award for Research

In the antebellum Natchez district, in the heart of slave country, black people sued white people in all-white courtrooms. They sued to enforce the terms of their contracts, recover unpaid debts, recuperate back wages, and claim damages for assault. They sued in conflicts over property and personal status. And they often won. Based on new research conducted in courthouse basements and storage sheds in rural Mississippi and Louisiana, Kimberly Welch draws on over 1,000 examples of free and enslaved black litigants who used the courts to protect their interests and reconfigure their place in a tense society.

To understand their success, Welch argues that we must understand the language that they used--the language of property, in particular--to make their claims recognizable and persuasive to others and to link their status as owner to the ideal of a free, autonomous citizen. In telling their stories, Welch reveals a previously unknown world of black legal activity, one that is consequential for understanding the long history of race, rights, and civic inclusion in America.

About the Author

Kimberly M. Welch is assistant professor of history and law at Vanderbilt University.
For more information about Kimberly M. Welch, visit the Author Page.

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