Bone and Sinew of the Land : America's Forgotten Black Pioneers & the Struggle for Equality
by Cox, Anna-lisa

Documents the lesser-known story of America's black pioneers, revealing how from the nation's earliest years, thousands of free African Americans built hundreds of settlements in the Northwest Territory. By the author of A Stronger Kinship. 20,000 first printing.

Anna-Lisa Cox is the author of A Stronger Kinship: One Town's Extraordinary Story of Hope and Faith, and an award-winning historian. Currently a fellow at Harvard University's Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, she also recently helped create two historical exhibits based on her original research at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, including one on black pioneers. She lives in Michigan.

For most Americans, pioneers evokes a clear image of hardy white men and women. Yet as Cox demonstrates in her carefully researched account, African American pioneers were active settlers from the time of the Revolution, with over 300 settlements in the Northwest Territory. As successful farmers, traders, and craftspeople, they took seriously the safeguards of equality professed by the Declaration of Independence, only to see state after state abandon those principles. In the Northwest Territory, originally established as a slavery-free zone, whites nonetheless enact fiendish legal maneuvers to maintain black dehumanization, depriving them of the rights to move freely, vote, and bear witness against whites, meaning that they couldn't testify against those who attacked or robbed them. Whites even maintained de facto slavery by forcing free African Americans into "indentured service" contracts with terms of over 90 years. Struggling to retain their farms and businesses, "by the 1850s, free African Americans were trying to defend themselves on two fronts, for being too successful and for supposedly being doomed to failure." Cox provides a moving and necessary corrective to American pioneer history. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Antebellum black communities in the upper Midwest emerge from the mists of history.By 1860, more than 63,000 African-Americans were living in the five states carved out of the old Northwest Territory, mostly in small farming communities. Many had moved there from the South and East during the territorial period seeking good land and the considerable freedoms guaranteed by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. As the states from Ohio to Wisconsin were established, the black pioneers' legal status deteriorated as these "free" states stripped them of one legal right after another. While many of them prospered financially, their success proved both a rebuke to the notion that blacks were inherently incapable of thriving on their own and a temptation to their rapacious white neighbors. Greed, racial hatred, and the effects of the fugitive slave laws too often combined to produce incidents of harrowing violence. Cox (A Stronger Kinship: One Town's Extraordinary Story of Hope and Faith, 2006, etc.), a fellow at Harvard's Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, sets out to illuminate the experience of this community, the very existence of which has been generally overlooked or denied. Extensive endnotes attest to the thorough and diligent scholarship underlying her account. Along the way, however, the author appears to have been captivated by the stories of some of the families whose circumstances illustrate her thesis. She imagines their daily lives in detail—the rooster crowing as they pause in morning chores to admire the sunrise—and muses on what they may have been thinking or discussing; indeed, Cox often indulges in guesses about what her subjects could have done, might have thought, and must have known. The account thus often teeters on the edge of historical fiction. The prose style is more suitable for young adult readers than for scholars, and the author sometimes lapses into overwrought, florid passages. A scholarly s tudy with a young adult novel trapped inside and struggling to escape. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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