Saturday, August 15, 2009

Gilmer on The Life and Times of a Free Family of Color in Antebellum Texas

Shades of Gray: The Life and Times of a Free Family of Color in Antebellum Texas is a new paper by Jason Gillmer, Texas Wesleyan University School of Law. Here's the abstract:
The history of race and slavery is often told from the perspective of either the oppressors or the oppressed. This Article takes a different tact, unpacking the rich and textured story of the Ashworths, an obscure yet prosperous free family of color who came to Texas beginning in the early 1830s. It is undoubtedly an unusual story; indeed in the history of the time there are surely more prominent names and more famous events. Yet their story reveals a tantalizing world in which--despite legal rules and conventional thinking - life was not so black and white. Drawing on local records rather than canonical cases, and listening to the voices from the community rather than the legislatures, this Article emphasizes the importance of looking to the margins of society to demonstrate how racial relations and ideological notions in the antebellum South were far more intricate than we had previously imagined. The Ashworths never took a stand against slavery; to the contrary, they amassed a fortune on its back. But their racial identity also created complications and fissures in the social order, and their story ultimately tells us as much about them as it does about the times in which they lived.