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Oxford University Press


As director of the Race and Slavery Petitions Project as the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, historian Loren Schweninger has for years mined legal records in exploring American slavery. His Appealing for Liberty is a successful effort to fill in gaps in that history and the African-American experience in the southern judicial system by examining over 2000 freedom suits filed by slaves in the southern courts from the colonial through the antebellum periods. The suits reveal both the tenacity of enslaved people using the courts to escaping bondage notwithstanding expected bias, lop-sided laws favoring masters, as well as the ever-present sense of the unquestioned sanctity and necessity of slavery hovering in the background. It also is a fascinating window into the values and beliefs of a number of white, and commonly slaveholding, southern lawyers, judges, and supporting witnesses who valued the rule of law and fairness above the interest of other slaveholders in supporting and favorably ruling on freedom petitions against the property interests of defendant slaveholders even in light of southern society’s increasingly adamant defense of the “peculiar institution.”