William G. Thomas III is the John and Catherine Angle Professor in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is the author of "A Question of Freedom: The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation's Founding to the Civil War" (2020). He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Lincoln Prize Finalist. He was a co-founder and director of the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia. He is currently producing a series of animated historical films at Animating History.
This lecture explores the burst of freedom suits in the years that followed the American Revolution when enslaved families took slaveholders to court and won. Long before the Dred Scott decision, Black families in Washington, D.C., filed more than five hundred freedom suits, each a dramatic contest over whether slavery was legitimate in American law or not.