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Prof.'s book documents one family's struggles for freedom through generations

By John Masson

Kidnapped and sold into slavery around 1785, Rosalie of the Poulard Nation was one of millions. But more than 200 years later, she's become one in a million, instead: someone whose tale—and whose legacy—can be shared down the centuries.

In their just-released book, Freedom Papers: An Atlantic Odyssey in the Age of Emancipation, Michigan Law Professor Rebecca J. Scott and coauthor Jean M. Hébrard trace the descendants of the woman who came to be called Rosalie, who was deported from West Africa to the French colony of Saint-Domingue, where she acquired her freedom during the Haitian Revolution.

From there to Cuba and New Orleans, then on to France and Belgium—from freedom to bondage and back to freedom again—the stories in Freedom Papers represent more than just a tenacious trip through archives on three continents. They also tell the very human story of one family's involvement in several major anti-racist fights of the 19th century: The Haitian Revolution, the French Revolution of 1848, the American Civil War and Reconstruction, and even the Cuban War for Independence.

Throughout the struggle, Rosalie and her descendants sometimes wavered but often stepped forward to assert their rights—and to document their actions along the way. They were forced to rely on meticulous record-keeping to retain their tenuous freedom, but much later that same documentation helped Scott and Hébrard breathe real life into a significant story about the struggles for liberty that consumed much of the Atlantic world.

Rebecca Scott videoLearn more in a video interview with Prof. Scott about the book that Henry Louis Gates, Jr., says is sure to "be hailed as a tour de force of dogged research and the most riveting and fecund scholarly imagination."




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