William G. Thomas III is the John and Catherine Angle Chair in the Humanities and Professor of History at the University of Nebraska. He was co-founder and director of the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia.
William Thomas casts a bright light into the period's darkness. . . . He reveals a remarkable struggle for freedom, one buoyed at first by new aspirations in the broader culture and later doomed by rekindled fears. . . . Valuable and provocative. . . . Mr. Thomas brings a clear and sensitive eye to the tangled relationship of black and white Americans in the early 19th century. -Fergus Bordewich, Wall Street Journal Here is a strikingly original, eloquent, and humane book on an inhumane institution. The story restores the names and histories of people who fought for freedom for generations. -Edward Ayers, author of The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America In A Question of Freedom, historian William Thomas brings to light the truly remarkable and largely forgotten efforts of people held in bondage to sue for their freedom in the courts of the early United States. A genuine contribution to the social, legal, and political history of American slavery, this is a book of great depth and insight. -Adam Rothman, historian and curator of the Georgetown Slavery Archive With its vivid narration, revelatory research, careful contextualization, and bracing honesty, A Question of Freedom demonstrates that freedom suits were not isolated episodes but instead a major form of slave resistance, with far-reaching and ongoing effects in the long freedom struggle. This book is essential reading for understanding the history of slavery and the modern debate over reparations. -Elizabeth R. Varon, author of Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War William Thomas has produced an important and astonishing chronicle of the legal battles waged by enslaved people for their own freedom. Braiding white-knuckle courtroom drama together with a searing exploration of his own family history, he redefines slavery's place in early American law-not an inherent feature, but a dubious institution whose contradictions were exploited by the enslaved to protect themselves and their families. -Yoni Appelbaum, Senior Editor, The Atlantic A Question of Freedom is an essential book that details the extraordinary efforts of enslaved people to challenge both the legitimacy and absoluteness of slavery in courts of law. It is a work of remarkable honesty and humanity that should inform any conversation on the legacy of slavery. Please read it. -Lauret Savoy, author of Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the America Landscape