I’m delighted to announce the publication of my latest book, Educated for Freedom, which follows the work of two lifelong friends and activists in the volatile years leading to the Civil War.
In the 1820s, few Americans could imagine a viable future for black children. Even abolitionists saw just two options for African American youth: permanent subjection or exile. Educated for Freedom tells the story of James McCune Smith and Henry Highland Garnet, two black children who came of age and into freedom as their country struggled to grow from a slave nation into a free country.
Smith and Garnet met as schoolboys at the Mulberry Street New York African Free School, an educational experiment created by founding fathers who believed in freedom’s power to transform the country. Smith and Garnet’s achievements were near-miraculous in a nation that refused to acknowledge black talent or potential. The sons of enslaved mothers, these schoolboy friends would go on to travel the world, meet Revolutionary War heroes, publish in medical journals, address Congress, and speak before cheering crowds of thousands. The lessons they took from their days at the New York African Free School #2 shed light on how antebellum Americans viewed black children as symbols of America’s possible future. The story of their lives, their work, and their friendship testifies to the imagination and activism of the free black community that shaped the national journey toward freedom.
Advance Praise for Educated for Freedom
“This is a book for our times. In highly readable prose, Duane unravels the story of two boys who enrolled in New York’s African Free School in the 1820s..” –Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Silver Professor of History Emerita, New York University
“Educated for Freedom will become indispensable for those invested in deep and complex understandings of black life and letters in the long nineteenth century. James McCune Smith, Henry Highland Garnet, and their New York African Free School cohort anchor this thoroughly researched and richly woven narrative that brings a robust and wide-ranging black network to life. A definitive study of Smith and Garnet’s lives and a pleasure to read.” –Derrick R. Spires author, The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States
“As Anna Mae Duane reconstitutes them, the lives of Henry Highland Garnet and James McCune Smith illuminate with unmatched clarity the agonizing circumstances, remarkable resilience and stunning creativity that characterized the struggles of black abolitionists. A methodological tour de force conveyed in powerfully clear writing, this “breakthrough” book deserves the fullest attention of general readers and specialists alike.” –James Brewer Stewart, Founder of Historians Against Slavery
“Duane departs from the traditional biographical format—surveying from childhood to adulthood—and instead weaves biographical events together through a focus on documents at the school Garnet and Smith attended as children. The result creates a provocative tie between their childhood challenges and the work they pursued as adults.
A compelling tale of . . . their struggle to forge a path for freedom out of a slave nation.”–Kirkus Reviews
“In a lively narrative, Educated for Freedom persuasively reconstructs the lives and careers of James McCune Smith and Henry Highland Garnet. But the book’s horizons extend far beyond the mere biographical in its insistence on education as the bedrock of black community building, the limitless possibilities open to those individuals who achieve it, and the fiercely independent—and sometimes conflictual—intellectual traditions that resulted.” –Carla L. Peterson, author of Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City
Grating the Nutmeg Podcast (release January 2020)
Salon Talk, Hunter College New York City (date tba)