W. Caleb McDaniel is the Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History at Rice University, where he also serves as chair of the Department of History and co-chair of the university's Task Force on Slavery, Segregation, and Racial Injustice. He is the author of Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America, which won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in History and the Civil War and Reconstruction Book Prize from the Organization of American Historians. His first book, The Problem of Democracy in the Age of Slavery: Garrisonian Abolitionists and Transatlantic Reform, received the Merle Curti Prize for Intellectual History from the OAH and the James Broussard First Book Prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. In addition to his academic articles about the history of slavery, antislavery, and emancipation in the nineteenth century, his essays have appeared in the New York Times, Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and TIME.
In recent years, cases for and against reparations for slavery have received increased attention in the academy, in the media, and in Congress, where a hearing on H.R. 40 (a bill to establish a commission to study the subject and make recommendations) was held in 2019. This lecture explores the story of Henrietta Wood, a formerly enslaved woman who, in the twilight of Reconstruction, won the largest known sum ever awarded by a U.S. court in restitution for slavery. How did she survive slavery, twice, and hold a powerful former enslaver to account? Where does her story fit in the longer history of reparations claims? And what does it tell us about debates over reparations today? What difference did the victory make for Wood and her descendants?