The Long Walk to Freedom: Runaway Slave Narratives

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In this groundbreaking compilation of first-person accounts of the runaway slave phenomenon, editors Devon Carbado and Donald Weise have recovered twelve narratives spanning eight decades—more than half of which have been long out of print. Told in the voices of the runaway slaves themselves, these narratives reveal the extraordinary and often innovative ways that these men and women sought freedom and demanded citizenship.
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In this groundbreaking compilation of first-person accounts of the runaway slave phenomenon, editors Devon Carbado and Donald Weise have recovered twelve narratives spanning eight decades—more than half of which have been long out of print. Told in the voices of the runaway slaves themselves, these narratives reveal the extraordinary and often innovative ways that these men and women sought freedom and demanded citizenship.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The intensity of the desire for freedom drives these narratives by fugitive slaves. The dozen excerpts from published accounts mostly unfamiliar to general readers are organized into thematic areas—yearning for freedom, family situations, religious inspiration, and extreme measures taken to liberate themselves—editors Carbado, UCLA professor of law and African-American studies, and Weise, editor-in-chief of Magnus Books, underline the commonalities of the American slave experience yet allow each fugitive his own voice. Villains in the form of owners, traders, bounty hunters, and treacherous blacks abound; gruesome descriptions of whippings and other tortures punctuate many of the tales. Heroes and heroics also emerge: Quakers and other antislavery activists assisted runaways; fugitives walked for days without food, fought off dogs and wolves, and even after capture managed to escape again. Most of the fugitives note that the slaveholders were “professing Christians,” though one fugitive cites the Bible’s prohibition against returning escaped slaves. Stevenson’s afterword places the narratives in historical context, where a white man could sell his own children by a slave to escape “social ostracism.” It may give readers nightmares, but this book needs to be read. Illus. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the historical reality of the slave experiences. Carbado and Weise have diligently selected narratives that will challenge readers' presumptions and cut against the mythology that slaves were passive, that mostly men (and not women) ran away, that slaves typically ran North (not South), and that gender and racial passing were rare occurrences. A landmark achievement, The Long Walk to Freedom allows fugitive slaves to speak for themselves—on their own terms and in their own voices."—Dr. Mary Frances Berry, Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania

“The editors step aside and let these remarkable men and women tell their own stories.”—Kirkus Reviews

"Readers will learn more about slavery in the American South from these autobiographical accounts than they could from any textbook."–Wall Street Journal

Library Journal
This collection contains excerpts from 12 narratives by former slaves, who escaped to freedom. Some of them are classics, such as those by Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and William Craft. Others have not been in print for approximately 100 years (although all are available on the Internet in various forms). Carbado (law & African American studies, Univ. of California, Los Angeles) and Weise (publisher, Magnus Books) provide an introduction that covers the history of slave resistance and how slave narratives became the foundation of African American literature. However, the editors gloss over the influence of white abolitionists in the editing and publishing process and the general popularity of melodramatic literature in the early to mid-19th century. The excerpts are organized by theme: "Running To Be Free," "Running Because of Family," "Running Inspired by Religion," and "Running by Any Means Necessary." These categories help to contextualize each within the larger framework of the history of slavery and abolitionism. VERDICT Although the narratives are available online, this book will provide a succinct collection for high school or beginning undergraduates studying the history of slavery in America.—Kathryn Stewart, American Folklife Ctr., Washington, DC
Kirkus Reviews
Excerpts from the narratives of runaway slaves organized by the principal reason for the flight to freedom. In some ways, this is an unnecessary volume, as the narratives are widely available elsewhere, in print and online. But editors Carbado (Law and African American Studies/UCLA) and Magnus Books editor in chief Weise have sharpened and particularized the focus, allowing readers a chance to experience the stories from a fresh perspective. After a brief introduction--where we learn that most runaways didn't head north but instead to southern cities, hoping to disappear into anonymity--the editors step aside and let these remarkable men and women tell their own stories. Carbado and Weise arrange the escapes by motive (recognizing that no such radical act has a single reason): runs for freedom, family, religion and "by any means necessary," a sort of catchall category. Included are the stories of Moses Roper, who found his mother years later (she didn't initially recognize him); James Curry, who writes about brutal floggings; Bethany Veney, who relates how she never again saw her husband; Isaac Williams, who battled wolves during his escape; and William and Ellen Craft, whose bold escape featured cross-dressing and passing as white on public transportation. Among these perhaps lesser-known stories are also selections from the famous narratives of Frederick Douglass, Nat Turner and Harriet Jacobs. Many of the cruelties remain horrifying to read. Emerging as true humanitarian heroes are the Quakers, who invariably helped when others would not. A useful one-volume selection featuring grim but inspiring tales.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807069127
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 8/21/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,029,667
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Devon W. Carbado, a graduate of Harvard Law School, is professor of law and African American studies at UCLA. Carbado writes about race and is the editor of several books, including Race Law Stories (with Rachel Moran) and Time on Two Crosses (with Donald Weise). 

Donald Weise is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Magnus Books. He has also served as publisher of Alyson Books and senior editor at Carroll & Graf Publishers. Weise was named an industry "Change Maker" by Publishers Weekly and is on the board of the Lambda Literary Foundation.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 8, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Gripping, vivid and confronting

    “I had as well be killed running as die standing.” –Frederick Douglass

    The slave narratives contained in this collection cause me to marvel that, at the end of slavery, no one was held accountable for crimes against humanity, that the champions of slavery are not now reviled with the same collective embarrassment directed at the Nazis of WWII. When a member of the Royal family dressed as a Nazi for Halloween it caused an international stir (and rightly so, that was disgraceful), yet people routinely dress in Confederate uniforms as part of Civil War and antebellum re-enactments, proclaiming the glory of the South, and we are asked to collectively pretend that they are not also glorifying the days of the atrocities of slavery. Where is the collective sense of deep shame?

    The Long Walk to Freedom confronts the ways in which history is revised to downplay the horrors of slavery. It’s one thing to claim that one generation cannot be held accountable for the sins of a previous generation (fair enough), but it is quite another to routinely hear the glorification of that generation, to speak of the founding fathers as practically infallible, to long for the days of the “Old South” without acknowledging that the society and culture of slavery-era North America was deeply broken. It allowed for the torture and enslavement of an entire group of people whose stories simply cannot be “wished away” or excised from our history.

    The first hand accounts of runaway slaves in this volume are particularly gripping and vivid, as they refuse to allow us the comfort of imagining that slavery was “not that bad,” or that most slaves were happy to serve their amiable masters like loyal members of the family. These stories are not the fiction of Mamie from Gone With the Wind. They are the reality of Frederick Douglass, Nat Turner, and many others who endured the inhumanity of slavery and never stopped longing for freedom.

    For more reviews, please visit my blog, CozyLittleBookJournal.

    Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from Edelweiss (Above the Tree Line). I was asked to write an honest review, though not necessarily a favourable one. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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