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Dr. Tamika Nunley on How Black Women Defined Liberty in 19th-Century America

Recorded on 03/28/2023
Posted in TIE Podcast

TIE Podcast · Dr. Tamika Nunley on How Black Women Defined Liberty in 19th-Century America
At the Threshold of Liberty: Women, Slavery, and Shifting Identities in Washington, D.C. book cover

In this spring semester episode, Dr. Tamika Nunley, Associate Professor and Sandler Family Faculty Fellow at Cornell University, discusses her recent book, At the Threshold of Liberty: Women, Slavery, and Shifting Identities in Washington, D.C. In conversation with Alexia Hudson-Ward, editor-in-chief of Toward Inclusive Excellence, Tamika explores the various livelihoods and everyday struggles of Black women in the Washington D.C. area during the 19th century. Tamika reaches beyond the heroic narratives often highlighted during that time—the educated, philanthropists, civil rights leaders—to humanize and bring forth stories of Black women pursuing sex work, gambling, or illegal pursuits in the name of survival and forging their own liberties. In addition, she describes the documents she used to piece these narratives together, often pulling from accounts of First Ladies and police precinct records to reveal Black women and children in the archive. Further, Tamika underscores how Black women defined liberty for themselves, creating their own versions of freedom under a government that did not grant it. To close, Tamika offers a look into her forthcoming book, The Demands of Justice: Enslaved Women, Capital Crime, and Clemency in Early Virginia, and how writing the title during the early pandemic and George Floyd protests of 2020 inspired and influenced her work.


About the guest:

Tamika Nunley
Associate Professor and Sandler Family Faculty Fellow
Cornell University

Tamika Nunley is Associate Professor of History with courses and research focused on the history of slavery, African American women’s and gender history, the early Republic, and the American Civil War. Her first book, At the Threshold of Liberty: Women, Slavery, and Shifting Identities in Washington, D.C. (University of North Carolina Press, 2021) reveals how African American women—enslaved, fugitive, and free—imagined new identities and lives beyond the oppressive restrictions intended to prevent them from experiencing liberty, self-respect, and power. This book was named the 2021 Letitia Woods Brown Book prize winner for best book in African American women’s history and the 2021 Pauli Murray Book prize winner for best book in Black intellectual history.

She is currently finishing a second book, The Demands of Justice: Enslaved Women, Capital Crime, and Clemency in Early Virginia, 1662-1865 with the University of North Carolina Press. She has published articles and reviews in The Journal of Southern HistoryThe William and Mary Quarterly, the Journal of American Legal History and the Journal of the Civil War Era.

In addition to being a lifetime member of the Association of Black Women Historians, she serves on the editorial board of Civil War HistoryThe Journal of Southern History, and the Journal of the Civil War Era. She has served on committees for the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, the Society of Civil War Historians, and the Southern Historical Association. Her work has been supported by the Andrew Mellon and Woodrow Wilson foundations as well as the American Association of University Women and the Bright Institute Fellowship.

Episode theme music: Black is the Night by Jeris (c) copyright 2014 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. Ft: DJ Vadim (djvadim), NiGiD


Watch the full video recording of the interview here:


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