Journey to Freedom: Uncovering the Grayson Sisters' Escape from Nebraska (Blankenau)

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by Gail Shaffer Blankenau

In late November of 1858 two enslaved Black women—Celia Grayson, age twenty-two, and Eliza Grayson, age twenty—escaped the Stephen F. Nuckolls household in southeastern Nebraska. John Williamson, a man of African American and Cherokee descent from Iowa, guided them through the dark to the Missouri River, where they boarded a skiff and crossed the icy waters, heading for their first stop on the Underground Railroad at Civil Bend, Iowa.

Journey to Freedom Gail Shaffer Blankenau provides the first detailed history of Black enslavement in Nebraska Territory and the escape of these two enslaved Black women from Nebraska City. Poised on the “frontier,” the Graysons’ escape demonstrated that unique opportunities beckoned at the confluence of Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, and Kansas, and their actions challenged slavery’s tentative expansion into the West and its eventual demise in an era of territorial fluidity. Their escape and the violence that followed prompted considerable debate across the country and led to the Nebraska legislature’s move to prohibit slavery. Drawing on multiple collections, records, and slave narratives, Journey to Freedom sheds light on the Graysons’ courage and agency as they became high-profile figures in the national debate between proslavery and antislavery factions in the antebellum period.

  • Release date: March 1, 2024
  • Hardcover
  • 280 pages