A Fluid Frontier: African Canadian and African American Transnationalism in the Detroit River Borderlands

AHA Session 80
Friday, January 6, 2012: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Chicago Ballroom F (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Karolyn Smardz Frost, Harriet Tubman Institute, York University
The Frontier Underground Railroad
Veta Tucker, Kutsche Office of Local History, Grand Valley State University
Activism, Abolition, and Biracial Sisterhood in Michigan
Margaret Washington, Cornell University
Canada: A Precarious Canaan—The Issue of Extradition of Fugitive Slaves
Bryan Prince, Buxton National Historic Site and Museum
Afua Cooper, Black Canadian Studies Association

Session Abstract

Proposed Panel: A Fluid Frontier: African Canadian & African American Transnationalism in the Detroit River Borderlands

The Detroit River has been both a boundary and conduit for African American and African Canadian transnationalism from earliest colonial times through the modern era. Escaping slaves fled in both directions over the border before the War of 1812, exacerbating border tensions. American soldiers and their Black servants returning from the War of 1812 spread the news that escaped slaves who reached Canadian soil were considered free. This sparked a wave of clandestine and sometimes violent migration that did not abate until after the American Civil War.  A complex web of ties of family, friendship and faith bound the Black communities along both sides of the river.  This network facilitated the operation of the most highly organized fugitive slave assistance network in the Canadian borderlands during the era of the fabled Underground Railroad. This panel focuses on the role of people of African descent along the Detroit River border before the American Civil War, and on the part played by Detroit River Black communities in helping freedom seekers cross over into Canada. 

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