Stories of Freedom in Black New York by Shane White

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Stories of Freedom in Black New York recreates the experience of black New Yorkers as they moved from slavery to freedom. In the early decades of the nineteenth century, New York City's black community strove to realize what freedom meant, to find a new sense of itself, and, in the process, created a vibrant urban culture. Through exhaustive research, Shane White imaginatively recovers the raucous world of the street, the elegance of the city's African American balls, and the grubbiness of the Police Office. It allows us to observe the style of black men and women, to watch their public behavior, and to hear the cries of black hawkers, the strident music of black parades, and the sly stories of black conmen.

Taking center stage in this story is the African Company, a black theater troupe that exemplified the new spirit of experimentation that accompanied slavery's demise. For a few short years in the 1820s, a group of black New Yorkers, many of them ex-slaves, challenged pervasive prejudice and performed plays, including Shakespearean productions, before mixed race audiences. Their audacity provoked feelings of excitement and hope among blacks, but often of disgust by many whites for whom the theater's existence epitomized the horrors of emancipation.

Stories of Freedom in Black New York brilliantly intertwines black theater and urban life into a powerful interpretation of what the end of slavery meant for blacks, whites, and New York City itself. White's story of the emergence of free black culture offers a unique understanding of emancipation's impact on everyday life, and on the many forms freedom can take.


About Shane White

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Shane White is Professor of History at the University of Sydney.
Published September 15, 2007 by Harvard University Press. 272 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences, War, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math. Non-fiction

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As Hewlett began his soliloquy one evening, the police halted the drama, took the cast into custody, and released them only after their promise “never to act Shakespeare again.” In its old quarters, the company mounted new productions, but months later a group of men entered the theater and attac...

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Publishers Weekly

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Many white critics and community figures were, not surprisingly, scandalized by the productions, and company members suffered harassment at the hands of local toughs and authorities alike.

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