The Daily Illini

Guest lecturer discusses slavery and emancipation in Illinois

Scott Heerman, slavery and emancipation scholar and author, is giving a lecture at the University on Thursday about the origins and abolishment of slavery in Illinois.

The free lecture, “Round About Midnight: Slavery and Freedom in the Land of Lincoln,” taking place at 4 p.m. in room 217 of Gregory Hall, will discuss the beginnings, re-establishment and abolishment of slavery in Illinois.

Heerman, history professor from the University of Miami, said in an email he will also discuss race in Illinois and the role it played in shaping politics of the nineteenth century.

His book, “The Alchemy of Slavery: Human Bondage and Emancipation in the Illinois Country, 1730-1865,” was inspired by the question “how do you make a free society?”

“I’m not the first to ask that question, but by focusing on Illinois before the Civil War I found a time and place where we didn’t have a good answer,” he said.  

Heerman said he struggled to understand the shift in Illinois from a slave state to a “free state” because Illinois lacked many of the forces that drove abolition in the North, such as a power-free black community, newspapers and religious communities.

The attempt of Illinois to abolish slavery actually led to new variations of coerced labor, leading Heerman to rethink many of the organizing concepts of scholarship.

Heerman said he wants students to know ending slavery was a difficult process.

“We tend to think of big change happening in major moments, due to major events. Instead, I want students to learn that emancipation was a process that played out over time,” he said.

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