HISTORY

Beyond Slavery's Shadow: Free People of Color in the South

Univ. of North Carolina. Oct. 2021. 376p. ISBN 9781469664392. pap. $29.95. HIST
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Historian Milteer (Univ. of North Carolina, Greensboro; North Carolina's Free People of Color, 1715-1885) argues in this book that racism in the American South was not based only on Black and white racial divisions, because people of color who were free were in a very different situation than people who were enslaved. Focusing on people of color who were born free in the Upper South from the colonial era through the antebellum period (a time and place where most people of color were born into slavery), he unfolds communities of individuals from various ancestral backgrounds, who negotiated assorted intersecting hierarchies. (The book uses the term "people of color" to encompass Southerners of African descent, Indigenous descent, and multiracial descent.) Milteer insists that free men and women of color occupied precarious positions in a web of often inconsistent social intricacies that both privileged and victimized them, so they experienced Southern life differently than enslaved people. The book adeptly shows the complexities and contradictions that marked the daily lives of free-born people of color, who sometimes had opportunities to outmaneuver the American system of racial discrimination and exclusion. For instance, Milteer writes that a significant number of free people of color had personal relationships or status within their localities that yielded financial success and social integration even as they faced discrimination and segregation.
VERDICT 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.
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