Michael Thurmond, labor commissioner for Georgia, has written a new book, Freedom, about African-American history in the state. Thurmond served as Distinguished Lecturer at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at UGA and is currently on UGA’s Libraries’ Board of Visitors.
Freedom traces the history of race relations in Georgia to its founding moment: When General James Oglethorpe colonized the state as an anti-slavery colony in the 1730s. But Oglethorpe’s wishes were soon overturned, and the legalization of slavery in 1750 paved the way for more than a century of struggle.
The book recounts stories of men and women who tested the limits of their bondage through organized rebellions, escape attempts and wartime alliances with powers foreign and domestic.
Others shrewdly worked within the system of laws to find a modicum of liberty as free blacks, and by 1840 Georgia boasted the third largest free black population in the South. The pivotal Civil War, Thurmond argues, brought new opportunities and complications for black Georgians, and further clouded the intertwined relationship between whites and blacks. Using a number of historical resources, Freedom demonstrates the aggressive role black Georgians took in challenging their disenfranchised condition and their lasting influence on the development of their state.