The introduction sets out the overall scope and context of the book. It provides some background historiographical context on the lives of free people of color in the antebellum South, and the ways in which their lives became ever harder over time. It also explores the relationship between free people of color and the law, the use of legal petitions, and other writings on “voluntary” slavery. The introduction argues that black southerners conceptualized bondage and freedom as opposite ends of a whole spectrum of racial exploitation rather than polar opposites. An explanation of the methodologies used to examine petitions by free blacks and relevant census evidence is also included here. Finally, the introduction provides a summary of the book's chapters.
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