A non fiction book about a little-known figure in American history, Robert Smalls, whose daring escape from slavery during the Civil War helped convince Lincoln and the country that African Americans were extraordinarily capable of fighting for their freedom.
Smalls’s story is dramatic enough, but Lineberry gives it greater honor by setting it in the context of its surrounding circumstances ... Lineberry goes deeper. She pulls apart Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which encouraged helping freemen gain education and work, but had no teeth to enforce compliance ... The book is a neat piece of narrative history, told with exceptional brio. It flows with energy and bravado. It's also a crisp reminder that history is never tidy. Thanks, then, to Lineberry for reminding us of the existence of such people as Smalls.
...serves to remind us that black people were active, daring and, often, successful agents in securing their own freedom ... Be Free or Die maintains a tautly rendered perspective on the complex social dynamics of Civil War-era race relations, especially in the North, where its embrace of emancipation was warmer than whites' embrace of newly freed blacks ... yet, something about his personality, the character that gave him such a cool head and an unconquerable will, remains just out of reach. It’s not the fault of Be Free or Die, which deserves credit for restoring his name and his achievements to public attention.
Cate Lineberry has done readers and history a good turn by chronicling the life of a man who led one of the most daring escapes from American slavery during the Civil War ... Lineberry's biography is a solid retelling of his life. Some readers, however, may be put off by the considerable amount of conjecture ... Those objections aside, Be Free or Die joins a series of works in recent years that have contributed to a more accurate representation of the Civil War and Reconstruction.