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Almost Free: A Story about Family and Race in Antebellum Virginia (Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900 Ser.) Paperback – June 1, 2012
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Once again, Wolf crafts an elegant and illuminating study that reminds us just how complicated race was in the early national South. Thanks to the author’s fascinating topic and lively prose, this is a book that should be read by multiple audiences, from lay readers to academics to students.(Douglas R. Egerton author of Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election That Brought on the Civil War)
Carefully researched and passionately written, Eva Sheppard Wolf's Almost Free beautifully evokes the humanity of those many thousands like Samuel Johnson who lived in the fragile space between slavery and freedom in the early republic. Few studies capture nearly so well the elusive promise and the intricacies of race and status that attended to being free and black in early national Virginia.(Joshua D. Rothman author of Notorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and Families across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787-1861)
Deep research and vivid writing bring to life a resourceful free black family in an Old South where the color line was 'simultaneously momentous and tenuous'―where whites churned out racist laws and pro-slavery rhetoric even as they sometimes recognized black character and achievement.(Melvin Patrick Ely author of Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War)
Wolf frames the determination of Samuel Johnson, a Virginia slave turned free black, within early-19th-century meanings of ‘race’ and law. Relying heavily on local Virginia records, Wolf challenges Ira Berlin's interpretation of free blacks as ‘slaves without masters.’(J.D. Smith Choice )
Wolf's insights about race fit neatly in the historiography of race and freedom in the antebellum South. . . . But what Wolf has done in Almost Free, admirably, is explain complicated issues of race through an absorbing human story in a manner that will be accessible to undergraduate students. The book is smoothly written and eminently teachable.(Rebecca Goetz Common-Place)
Almost Free rescues [Samuel] Johnson and his struggles from oblivion, making use of meager public records to craft a remarkable and moving portrait.(Colloquy)
The author’s careful and exhaustive research yields a wealth of detail about people who left few direct records of their own understandings of their world of central Virginia.(Calvin Schermerhorn Virginia Magazine)
Wolf ’s work is strongest in her consideration that race relations in antebellum Virginia must be examined in a more personal frame of reference. Scholars of antebellum race relations, particularly those interested in the status of free blacks, will find her book useful; general audiences will enjoy the story of one man’s desire to free himself and his family despite legal and societal challenges.(Andrea S. Watkins Journal of the Early Republic)
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