The capital city of a nation founded on the premise of liberty,
nineteenth-century Washington, D.C., was both an entrepot of urban
slavery and the target of abolitionist ferment. The growing slave
trade and the enactment of Black codes placed the city's Black
women within the rigid confines of a social hierarchy ordered by
race and gender. At the Threshold of Liberty reveals how
these women--enslaved, fugitive, and free--imagined new identities
and lives beyond the oppressive restrictions intended to prevent
them from ever experiencing liberty, self-respect, and power.
Consulting newspapers, government documents, letters, abolitionist records, legislation, and memoirs, Tamika Y. Nunley traces how Black women navigated social and legal proscriptions to develop their own ideas about liberty as they escaped from slavery, initiated freedom suits, created entrepreneurial economies, pursued education, and participated in political work. In telling these stories, Nunley places Black women at the vanguard of the history of Washington, D.C., and the momentous transformations of nineteenth-century America.