Centering the South

Melvin Patrick Ely
Newton Family Professor of History and Black Studies
College of William and Mary
” Israel on the Appomattox: Black-White Intimacy in the Old South”
Thursday, September 21, 2006
3:30 p.m.
569 Hamilton

Thomas Jefferson denied that whites and freed blacks could live together in harmony. His cousin, Richard Randolph, made it possible a half-century before the Civil War for ninety African Americans to prove Jefferson wrong. The former Randolph slaves of “Israel Hill,” and other free blacks in this corner of Virginia, established farms, navigated the Appomattox River, and became entrepreneurs. Free blacks and whites did business with one another, sued each other, worked side by side for equal wages, joined forces to found a Baptist congregation, moved west together, and occasionally settled down as man and wife. Slavery cast its grim shadow–yet on and around Israel Hill, we discover a moving story of hardship and hope that defies our expectations of the Old South.

Melvin Patrick Ely, a native of Richmond, Virginia, is the author of Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War. That book won the Bancroft Prize, the American Historical Association’s Beveridge Award for best book in American history, and the AHA’s Wesley-Logan Prize for best book on the African diaspora, along with a dozen other awards and citations. Ely’s earlier book, The Adventures of Amos ‘n’ Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon, was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and, like Israel on the Appomattox, was reviewed on the front cover of the NYTBR. Melvin Ely is a noted teacher, having won the Outstanding Faculty Award from the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Prize for Teaching Excellence at Yale University, where Ely taught for many years. Ely has served as Fulbright Senior Professor of American Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem; he is currently Newton Family Professor of History and Black Studies at the College of William and Mary.

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