Hardback
November 15, 2022
9781421444536
English
304
116010
10
9.00 Inches (US)
6.00 Inches (US)
1.04 Inches (US)
$49.95 USD, £37.00 GBP
v2.1 Reference
Electronic book text
November 15, 2022
9781421444543
9781421444536
English
304
116010
10
9.00 Inches (US)
6.00 Inches (US)
$49.95 USD, £37.00 GBP
v2.1 Reference

Street Diplomacy

The Politics of Slavery and Freedom in Philadelphia, 1820–1850

An illuminating look at how Philadelphia's antebellum free Black community defended themselves against kidnappings and how this "street diplomacy" forced Pennsylvanians to confront the politics of slavery.

As the most southern of northern cities in a state that bordered three slave states, antebellum Philadelphia maintained a long tradition of both abolitionism and fugitive slave activity. Although Philadelphia's Black community lived in a free city in a free state, they faced constant threats to their personal safety and freedom. Enslavers, kidnappers, and slave catchers prowled the streets of Philadelphia in search of potential victims, violent anti-Black riots erupted in the city, and white politicians legislated to undermine Black freedom. In Street Diplomacy, Elliott Drago illustrates how the political and physical conflicts that arose over fugitive slave removals and the kidnappings of free Black people forced Philadelphians to confront the politics of slavery.

Pennsylvania was legally a free state, at the street level and in the lived experience of its Black citizens, but Pennsylvania was closer to a slave state due to porous borders and the complicity of white officials. Legal contests between slavery and freedom at the local level triggered legislative processes at the state and national level, which underscored the inability of white politicians to resolve the paradoxes of what it meant for a Black American to inhabit a free state within a slave society.

Piecing together fragmentary source material from archives, correspondence, genealogies, and newspapers, Drago examines these conflicts in Philadelphia from 1820 to 1850. Studying these timely struggles over race, politics, enslavement, and freedom in Philadelphia will encourage scholars to reexamine how Black freedom was not secure in Pennsylvania or in the wider United States.

About the Author

Elliott Drago (PHILADELPHIA, PA) is an independent scholar.

Endorsements

"A significant achievement. The history reconstructed in this book is characterized by dramatic struggles over individual liberty and family security; interracial conflict and cooperation; and hard-won victories and agonizing defeats in political contests. Street Diplomacy does a fine job of decentering the familiar white leaders of the region's antislavery movement and instead positioning African Americans as pivotal actors. I was often dazzled by what Drago has been able to find in archival sources and reconstruct from woefully incomplete records."

- Richard Bell, University of Maryland, author of Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home

"Drago's concept of street diplomacy and how it played out on the streets, courts, and activist circles is paradigm shifting. Street Diplomacy also connects Philadelphia to state and national politics over issues of personal liberty laws, free and self-liberating African Americans' rights, and abolition. This book deftly brings attention to issues taking place across the antebellum North and will encourage a broader scholarly reexamination of street diplomacy during this time period."

- Hilary N. Green, University of Alabama, author of Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865–1890

"At last, a penetrating analysis of the ways personal struggles over freedom and slavery linked local, state, and national politics. It sets the standard for all of us interested in a broader interpretation of the politics of slavery centered on Black community resistance. Street Diplomacy is thoroughly convincing."

- R. J. M. Blackett, author of The Captive's Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery

"At the heart of this powerful study is both the fragility of Black freedom in the City of Brotherly Love and the courage and tenacity of those, Black and white, who struggled to defend that freedom."

- Julie Winch, author of A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten

"In this engaging book, the streets of Philadelphia teem with ordinary people engaging in battles over freedom and slavery. The stakes were high in these confrontations, for both the Black Philadelphians, many of them children, who were kidnapped and sold into slavery, and for the nation, as their street diplomacy reverberated outward to the halls of Congress."

- Judith Giesberg, Robert M. Birmingham Distinguished Chair in the Humanities, Villanova University
Johns Hopkins University Press
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