‘The Slave’s Cause’ wins the 19th annual Frederick Douglass Book Prize

The book by UConn professor Manisha Sinha offers a comprehensive synthesis of the American abolition movement.
Cover of "A Slave's Cause"

Manisha Sinha, the James L. and Shirley A. Draper Professor in American History at the University of Connecticut, has been selected as the winner of the 2017 Frederick Douglass Book Prize for her book “The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition” (Yale University Press).

The Douglass Prize was created jointly by the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University’s MacMillan Center and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York City. It is awarded annually by the Gilder Lehrman Center for the best book written in English on slavery or abolition. The $25,000 prize will be presented to Sinha at a reception sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute in New York City on Feb. 22.

In “The Slave’s Cause,” Sinha provides an account of a two-century-long “radical, democratic movement.” Challenging a historical narrative often skeptical of white anti-slavery activists, Sinha tells the story of an effort that was interracial in constitution and international in scope.

Sinha's work is a great scholarly achievement, placing black abolitionists and the fate of fugitive slaves at the center of the story of this country's prototypical radical reform movement,” said Gilder Lehrman Center Director David W. Blight, the Class of 1954 Professor of American History at Yale.  The book “is the most comprehensive synthesis of the American abolition movement written since the early works by James Stewart, Richard Sewell, and Merton Dillon in the 1960s and 1970s,” Blight added.

In Sinha's study, the fight to end slavery in the United States is a more cohesive movement than previously recognized and a pivotal part of the history of human rights. “The Slave's Cause” represents an important contribution to our understanding of abolition, one that will shape the field from this point forward, according to the judges.

In addition to Sinha, the other finalists for the prize were Alfred L. Brophy for “University, Court, and Slave: Pro-Slavery Thought in Southern Colleges and Courts and the Coming of Civil War” (Oxford University Press) and Rashauna Johnson for “Slavery’s Metropolis: Unfree Labor in New Orleans during the Age of Revolutions” (Cambridge University Press). All three books were chosen because they reflect original ideas, research, and methodological approaches to understanding the growth, breadth, and demise of slavery in North America.

This year’s finalists were selected from a field of approximately 80 books by a jury of scholars that included Christopher Hager (chair), of Trinity College; Daina Ramey Berry, of the University of Texas-Austin; and Oscar de la Torre, of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. The winner was selected by a review board of representatives from the Gilder Lehrman Center, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and Yale University.

The Frederick Douglass Book Prize was established in 1999 to stimulate scholarship in the field of slavery and abolition by honoring outstanding books on the subject. The award is named for Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), the slave who escaped bondage to emerge as one of the great American abolitionists, reformers, writers, and orators of the nineteenth century.

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