Beyond Slavery's Shadow

Free People of Color in the South

By Warren Eugene Milteer Jr.

376 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 14 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6439-2
    Published: October 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6438-5
    Published: October 2021
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-6440-8
    Published: September 2021

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On the eve of the Civil War, most people of color in the United States toiled in bondage. Yet nearly half a million of these individuals, including over 250,000 in the South, were free. In Beyond Slavery's Shadow, Warren Eugene Milteer Jr. draws from a wide array of sources to demonstrate that from the colonial period through the Civil War, the growing influence of white supremacy and proslavery extremism created serious challenges for free persons categorized as "negroes," "mulattoes," "mustees," "Indians," or simply "free people of color" in the South. Segregation, exclusion, disfranchisement, and discriminatory punishment were ingrained in their collective experiences. Nevertheless, in the face of attempts to deny them the most basic privileges and rights, free people of color defended their families and established organizations and businesses.

These people were both privileged and victimized, both celebrated and despised, in a region characterized by social inconsistency. Milteer's analysis of the way wealth, gender, and occupation intersected with ideas promoting white supremacy and discrimination reveals a wide range of social interactions and life outcomes for the South's free people of color and helps to explain societal contradictions that continue to appear in the modern United States.

About the Author

Warren E. Milteer Jr. is assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the author of North Carolina’s Free People of Color, 1715–1885.
For more information about Warren Eugene Milteer Jr., visit the Author Page.


"Synthesizing local histories and individual stories, Milteer opens to interested readers a fresh vista of a more complicated history of the South and the position of people of color, with implications for the 21st century."--Library Journal

“Milteer demonstrates how free people of color pursued and often achieved meaningful freedom in an oppressive society and provides a welcome update to the broader discussion of freedom and slavery in the antebellum American South.” --Journal of Social History

"Milteer has made a major contribution to the history of race in America. Deeply researched and lucidly written, this book uses an intersectional lens to investigate a wide range of lived experiences among free people of color in the antebellum South. Surveying a century across a vast region, Milteer reveals broad historical trends while challenging the extension of freedom as the dominant American narrative. This is an excellent, important work."--Christina Snyder, McCabe Greer Professor of History at Pennsylvania State University

“This excellent book describes a tug-of-war for Black rights and autonomy in the U.S. South before and into the Civil War. Milteer does a nice job of balancing the efforts of racists and white supremacists to chip away at Black rights with the efforts of Black southerners to make a life for themselves. Tapping into strong archival work, he describes the fight for manumission, the fight to remain in the communities of their desire, the struggle for rights in the courts and for recognition of legal personhood, and the struggle for the right to live autonomously and make a fair living.”—Beverly Tomek, professor of history at the University of Houston-Victoria

“For generations, the South’s free people of color inhabited a cramped and complex world of quasi freedom. Warren Milteer’s wide-ranging overview makes clear that the fraught lives of these unsung heroes were sharply constrained, hugely inspiring, and strikingly varied across time and space.”—Peter H. Wood, author of Strange New Land: Africans in Colonial America

“Combining sweeping breadth with rich attention to individual lives and communities, Warren Milteer Jr. changes just about everything we thought we knew about free people of color in the American South.”—Kathleen DuVal, author of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution