Reconceptualizing the US South through the Stories of Free People of Color
This panel focuses on the stories of free people of color in the nineteenth-century southern United States. Each of the papers in this panel seeks to investigate the social positions of free people of color in communities that ranked the free over the enslaved and gave preference to whites over non-whites. In such an environment, historians have generally assumed whites severely restricted the movements of free people of color through both the law and social customs. Yet the participants in this panel are part of a developing discussion that highlights the importance of the mobility connected to free status. The panel seeks to establish how free people of color in New Orleans, Louisiana, Natchez, Mississippi, and North Carolina carved out spaces to move freely among their neighbors, participate in their local economies, educate their children, and own and protect property. The presenters plan to offer new perspectives on the experiences of free people of color by looking beyond historical sources that focus primarily on the legal limitations imposed by whites on free people of color. Their papers view free people of color as visionaries working to control their own destinies while carefully navigating a society that esteemed social hierarchy and embraced careful political control.