Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Frontiers of Freedom by Nikki M. Taylor

The full title of this book is Frontiers of Freedom: Cincinnati's Black Community, 1802-1868. Any history book worth its salt will have a colon in its title...true. This book was written by a professor at the University of Cincinnati, which I currently attend. It may sound a little dry, and I'll admit that if you don't have some interest in Cincinnati, you may not find it that interesting. However, knowledge of or a connection to Cincinnati is not necessarily a prerequisite for enjoying this book.

During the time that the book covers, Cincinnati was a fairly unique place due to its location. The Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery East of the Mississippi River and North of the Ohio River. This meant that the Ohio River was the only barrier between freedom and slavery for many African Americans. Because of its location, Cincinnati had an unusually active Underground Railroad.

Dr. Taylor's goal is to construct the history of Cincinnati's black community, paying special attention to the transition from small, disparate groups to a cohesive community that acted in its own interest.

I found the descriptions of Cincinnati's various race riots particularly interesting. The aggression of Cincinnati's white residents was usually at the heart of these incidents. Angry about the ever-increasing black population, job scarcity, or other social issues, whites would retaliate against the black community. This was the case in 1841. After hours of violence, white residents dragged a canon from the docks to a black neighborhood six blocks to the North. They filled it with scrap metal and began firing it at black residences and businesses.

Taylor does of good job off peppering the pages of her book with stories of fugitive slaves, stevedores, black school teachers, and successful black entrepreneurs. These stories help breathe a little life into this academic work.

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