...historian Cox restores attention to the role of African-Americans in shaping both the frontier and early- to mid-19th-century American political life ... The frontier was a contested zone: although the territory was ostensibly slavery-free and granted voting rights to black male property holders, loopholes allowed pro-slavery Americans to ignore the law in pursuit of wealth and political power. Yet despite facing enormous prejudice, black pioneers fought for their rights and grew businesses, founded schools, built churches, and reorganized politics ... Cox’s book tells a story worth recovering, and it will interest anyone wanting to learn more about the lives of free black Americans before the Civil War.
Antebellum black communities in the upper Midwest emerge from the mists of history ... By 1860, more than 63,000 African-Americans were living in the five states carved out of the old Northwest Territory, mostly in small farming communities. Many had moved there from the South and East during the territorial period seeking good land and the considerable freedoms guaranteed by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. As the states from Ohio to Wisconsin were established, the black pioneers' legal status deteriorated as these 'free' states stripped them of one legal right after another ... While many of them prospered financially, their success proved both a rebuke to the notion that blacks were inherently incapable of thriving on their own and a temptation to their rapacious white neighbors. Greed, racial hatred, and the effects of the fugitive slave laws too often combined to produce incidents of harrowing violence ... A scholarly study with a young adult novel trapped inside and struggling to escape.
Before any former slaves were promised '40 acres and a mule,' before anyone uttered the words 'Go west, young man,' free black Americans flocked to the nation’s western frontier. There, in the sprawling territory that would become states like Michigan and Illinois, many plowed the land that they themselves owned ... Historians have known many blacks lived in the territory, but Cox writes that it wasn’t clear before that so many were entrepreneurial farmers who owned dozens, hundreds, and even thousands of acres each ... Her findings reveal 'a reality that no one thought existed, of a population that most have considered impossible – a population of successful African American pioneers integrating America’s first frontier,'