About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for Beyond Slavery’s Shadow: Free People of Color in the South

Greetings from the National Archives’ flagship building in Washington, DC, which sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today’s conversation between Warren Eugene Milteer, Jr., and Alaina Roberts about Milteer’s new book, Beyond Slavery’s Shadow.

Before we begin, I’d like to tell you about two programs coming up later this month on our YouTube channel.

On Wednesday, January 19, at 1 p.m., Kevin Boyle will discuss his new book, The Shattering: America in the 1960s, which focuses on the period’s fierce conflicts—the civil rights movement, rising Black nationalism, Nixon-era politics of busing and the Supreme Court, and the Vietnam War.

And on Wednesday, January 26, 1 p.m., David McKean will tell us about his new book, Watching Darkness Fall, which recounts the rise of the Third Reich in Germany and the road to war from the perspective of four American ambassadors in key Western European capitals—London, Berlin, Rome, Paris, and Moscow.

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In his introduction to Beyond Slavery’s Shadow, Warren Milteer, Jr., tells us that in the social order of the antebellum south, free people of color were “both privileged and victimized, both celebrated and despised”—they “experienced both financial success and economic exploitation.”

While they could own their own property, work their own land, and engage in trade, they were still denied the full freedoms exercised by White citizens. Yet, in the face of resistance and discrimination, they formed strong community institutions.

Within the National Archives are a number of resources for researching the lives of free people of color in the United States. Census records provide the names of all heads of households and all free members of the household.

Military service and pension records give valuable information about those who fought for the United States in the Army and Navy from the Revolutionary War onward.

Free African Americans long served as seamen on merchant and whaling vessels, and their service is documented in the Records of the U.S. Customs Service.

There is an impressive list of manuscript collections Professor Milteer used in his research, including 20 different NARA record groups. 

Beyond Slavery’s Shadow reveals the diverse experiences of free people of color and how they functioned within the larger society of the antebellum South.

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Warren Milteer, Jr., is assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the author of North Carolina’s Free People of Color and From Indians to Colored People: The Problem of Racial Categories and the Persistence of the Chowans in North Carolina.

Alaina Roberts is assistant professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh.  She is the author of When Black Lives Matter Meets Indian Country and I've Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land.

Now let’s hear from Warren Milteer, Jr., and Alaina Roberts. Thank you for joining us today.