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Navigating Liberty’s Promise: Black Women in Washington, DC and the End of Slavery

Nineteenth-century Washington, DC was home to thousands of enslaved people, as well as a hotbed of abolitionist activism. Black women were subject to incredible levels of legal and social restriction, but found ways to make their own lives within that world. Historian Tamika Nunley’s latest book, At the Threshold of Liberty: Women, Slavery, and Shifting Identities in Washington, DC, examines the lives of some of those women – some free, some fugitive, and some enslaved – and the ways that they were able to navigate the changes the 19th century would bring.

The Kluge Center’s Janna Deitz will interview Nunley on At The Threshold of Liberty in a public event on April 7, 2022. Free registration is available here. The event can be viewed virtually, or in person at the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Room LJ-119, on April 7, 2022 at 4pm.

The abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia occurred on April 16, 1862 and is observed each year as DC Emancipation Day. This event will commemorate DC Emancipation Day and highlight the Library’s resources supporting scholarship on DC history. Nunley consulted Library collections for this research, including the American Colonization Society papers, the Myrtilla Miner papers, and the Michael Shiner papers.

At The Threshold of Liberty is part of the John Hope Franklin Series, named for the prolific and highly distinguished historian who was awarded the John W. Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity in 2006.

Tamika Nunley is Associate Professor of History at Cornell, specializing in the history of slavery, African American women’s and gender history, the early Republic and the Civil War.  At the Threshold of Liberty was named the 2021 Letitia Woods Brown Book prize winner for best book in African American women’s history and has been shortlisted for the Museum of African American History (MAAH) Stone Book Award. Her research has been supported by the Andrew Mellon and Woodrow Wilson foundations, the American Association of University Women and the Bright Institute.  A member of the Association of Black Women Historians, Nunley serves on the editorial board of Civil War History and on committees of the Society of Civil War Historians and the Southern Historical Association.  Her next book, The Demands of Justice: Enslaved Women, Capital Crime, and Clemency in Early Virginia, 1662-1865 is forthcoming by the University of North Carolina Press.

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