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Welcome for South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War

Greetings from the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today’s virtual book talk with Alice Baumgartner, author of South to Freedom.

Before we begin, though, I’d like to tell you about two upcoming programs you can view on our YouTube channel.

On Tuesday, February 9, at 1 p.m., Alex Tresniowski will tell us about his new book, The Rope, which recounts the investigation into the murder of a 10-year-old girl in 1910 and how it helped launch the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

And on the following Tuesday, February 16, at noon, Robert P. Watson will discuss his book George Washington’s Final Battle. Watson describes how our first President tirelessly advocated for a capital on the shores of the Potomac and provides a historical lesson in leadership and consensus-building.

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In her introduction to South to Freedom, Alice Baumgartner relates an encounter she had in Mexico City while doing research for this book. When a man asked where she was from and she replied she was American, he reminded her that everyone on that subway was American. We often forget that the name “America” applies to the lands of the entire western hemisphere, and “American history” need not be confined to the borders of the United States.

Baumgartner’s new book, South to Freedom, directs our attention to our nation’s southern border and the actions of thousands of people seeking freedom from slavery. Their acts of self-emancipation, and Southerners’ reactions to those acts, intensified the antebellum sectional crisis and endangered the fraught balance between northern and southern states.

South to Freedom gives us a new perspective on the state of the Union before the Civil War and the causes of the Civil War. By reminding us that the journey to freedom did not always lead north, Alice Baumgartner helps us understand the continental scope of this critical chapter of our history.

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Alice Baumgartner is an assistant professor of history at the University of Southern California. She holds a Ph.D. from Yale University and an M.Phil in Latin American Studies from the University of Oxford, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. Her article “ ‘The Line of Positive Safety’: Borders and Boundaries in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, 1848–1880,” won the Louis Pelzer Award from the Organization of American Historians and the Bolton-Cutter Prize from the Western History Association. South to Freedom, was selected as an Editor's Choice by the New York Times Book Review and as one of the best Black history books of 2020 by the African American Intellectual History Society.

Now let’s hear from Alice Baumgartner. Thank you for joining us today.