39 pages, paperback
14,8 x 21,0, 2021
“Performing Freedom” examines the attempts by enslaved African Americans living in the nineteenth-century US South to escape slavery by fleeing to towns and cities within the slaveholding states and disguising themselves as free blacks. Going to great lengths to “look” and “act” free—often even acquiring forged free papers—thousands of enslaved people “passed for free” in urban areas with large free black communities. Such strategies of escape underscore the importance of visibility to the successful development of slavery as an institution, and reveal how enslaved people attempted to erase visible markers of enslavement to live in freedom.
Damian Alan Pargas is Professor of North American History & Culture at Leiden University, as well as Director of the Roosevelt Institute for American Studies in the Netherlands. Specialized in the history of slavery, he is the author and editor of several books, edited volumes and articles on various themes related to slavery in North America and in global contexts. His forthcoming book, Freedom Seekers: Fugitive Slaves in North America (Cambridge University Press, 2022), examines the experiences and strategies of runaway slaves in various “spaces of freedom” throughout the North American continent, and is based on a prestigious VIDI research grant awarded by the Netherlands Scientific Council (NWO). Pargas is also one of the founding editors of the Journal of Global Slavery, a founding member of the Leiden Slavery Studies Association, co-editor of the book series Studies in Global Slavery (Brill), and an International Advisory Board member of the Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies at the University of Bonn.