David Brion Davis’s Final Word on Slavery and Emancipation

David Brion Davis recently published The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation, the third volume in a trilogy of books on the history of slavery in Western culture. The first one came out nearly fifty years ago, so this last one is the culmination and distillation of a life’s work. What’s so cool about it is that it is dedicated to the ending of slavery, the history of emancipation from the Haitian Revolution through to the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments in the US. The reference to the Haitian Revolution also indicates something important about Davis’s angle: that he’s not focusing on conscientious white abolitionists and what Marcus Wood calls “the horrible gift of freedom“, but on the role of black abolitionists. The book is well worth the read. For a fuller account, you can read my review in the Charleston Post and Courier.

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