Free People of Color in Madison County, AL
by Nancy Rohr
Was it purgatory on earth, neither slave nor equal in the community? Nancy Rohr has documented, through the available records of Alabama and the county, and presented snippets of the life and the time Free African Americans coped in Southern society before and during the Civil War. It is not a novel but for those interested in the social environment of the Old South there are ample storylines to tingle the imagination and reflect on the impact of a deliberately segregated society on a single segment of its population. She outlines the patriotic justification that secured freedom for some slaves, freedom as the reward for loyalty to the master, and other legal methods for slaves to join a free society. The short descriptions of individuals who’s legal documents illustrate a struggle the freed slaves endured to support themselves and their families in a community that, at best, was ambivalent and, at worst, accusatory and violent. And, the primary focus is the Madison County Community. She illustrates the civil changes that affected the lives of all citizens and presents findings in records where returning to bondage was a better alternative to freedom. It is a documentary illustrating the struggle for equality in a society where the African American is seen but seldom noticed until the fear of insurrection surfaces. Ms. Rohr’s essay is supported by the census of 1830 – 1860; The Black Huntsville census of 1865; and material found in the Alabama State Assembly (legislature) and Madison County court records. A must for the library of anyone interested in the Old South society.
The Newsletter Editor’s interview with TVCWRT member and author Nancy Rohr.
Editor: Free People of Color is an interesting topic. Why did you choose to research and write about that particular subject?
Ms. Rohr: Curiosity leads a lot of folks astray. There were a couple of emancipation cases in the Probate Deed books, and I couldn’t understand why. One thing leads to noticing another and then more cases just seemed to appear.
Editor: Recognizing that the topic is not one that most Civil War buffs would necessarily pick up to read, did you find any particular individual that merits additional research and could add more depth to the attitude and disposition of other residents of Madison County?
Ms. Rohr: Originally my work was to be an essay to tie up what I had learned about the real cases that followed at the end of the book. For me the first section was to understand the issues and their importance to real people. The last part, is the “good” stuff – who they were and how the individuals must have gotten through life as I had learned it to be in that very first part.
Of course it will not be of interest for Civil War buffs, and alas, I’m afraid few other folks will care. But how could one ignore, once connections were made to the life of Rachael A. Pauper? (Somewhere today her family must have a real surname.) There were five generations going back to Native Americans in Virginia. That family could account for ancestors’ from1770 and in the legal system of the times for us to read today.
Editor: What would you most like the readers of Free People of Color in Madison County- Alabama to take away from your book?
Ms. Rohr: My goals have always been the same for everything I’ve written – just for a reader to pause and think for one moment on one page, “Gee, I didn’t know that!”
Editor: Many writers find information that is interesting but just doesn’t fit in the outline or storyline of their book. Did something stand out that you just couldn’t include in the text?
Ms. Rohr: No, I was more concerned about all the free people of color I might not have found – yet.
Editor: What is the topic for your next effort?
Ms. Rohr: Next topic? Next topic? One doesn’t know what that is until it’s found!