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“Freeing Charles: The Struggle to Free a Slave on the Eve of the Civil War” with Author Scott Christianson

March 2, 2010 @ 7:00 pm 9:00 pm EST

Scott Christianson, author of Freeing Charles: The Struggle to Free a Slave on the Eve of the Civil War, will give a multimedia presentation that looks at the life and epic rescue of captured fugitive slave Charles Nalle. In an almost unimaginable act – and the most dramatic slave rescue in American history – Nalle was forcibly liberated by Harriet Tubman and hundreds of protesters on April 27, 1860 in our own Troy, New York.

Co-sponsored by the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region.

About the Event:

An Abolitionist History of Troy Through the Life of Charles Nalle

The forcible liberation of a captured fugitive slave, Charles Nalle, by Harriet Tubman and hundreds of protesters on April 27, 1860 constituted the most dramatic slave rescue in American history and arguably the most significant event in the history of Troy and Watervliet. Yet until now, the episode has received little public attention.

Award-winning author Scott Christianson has spent eighteen years reconstructing Nalle’s life and escape from bondage, the operation of the Underground Railroad, and the riots that pitted an interracial mob of local abolitionists against armed proslavery forces.  Now his long-awaited book, Freeing Charles: The Struggle to Free a Slave on the Eve of the Civil War (University of Illinois Press), has just appeared in time for the 150th-year anniversary of Nalle’s rescue. 

In a spirited public discussion, Christianson will share this amazing story, joined by African American artist Mark Priest, who has spent the past several years reconstructing the incident in a series of monumental paintings.  Mark’s talk will be accompanied by a short video he produced on the making of the Charles Nalle images.  Local historians, activists, church and other community folks, and actual descendants of Charles Nalle’s family are expected to attend. 

Noted author Fergus M. Bordewich says Christianson “guides us unflinchingly along the heartbreaking fault line of racial relations that warped life in America–in both the North and the South–in the age of slavery,” and Tubman’s leading biographer, Kate Clifford Larson, has called it “a true testament to those sometimes-ordinary people who did extraordinary things for other human beings.”

About the Author

SCOTT CHRISTIANSON is an award-winning author, investigative reporter, curator, filmmaker and scholar who lives and works in New York’s Capital District.  He holds a Ph.D. and M.A. from the State University of New York at Albany, and his B.A. from the University of Connecticut. He has taught at Bard College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Union College, SUNY-Albany and other universities, and lectured throughout the U.S. and abroad.  His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, The Nation, Christian Science Monitor, Newsday, Mother Jones, New York Law Journal, Journal of American History, American Legacy, and many other journals and independent media.  He also appears on national TV and radio and has worked on films for HBO, PBS, History Channel, Discovery, Arte (France), WDR (Germany), and Hollywood. He is the author of With Liberty for Some: 500 Years of Imprisonment in America (winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Distinguished Honors Book Award, cited by the U.S. Supreme Court), Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House, Innocent: Inside Wrongful Conviction Cases and other books.  A strong supporter of the Sanctuary for Independent Media, he lives in Sand Lake in a house that was part of the Underground Railroad. 

MARK PRIEST is associate professor of art at the University of Louisville. He received his master’s degree from Yale University. His series of paintings on the rescue of captured fugitive slave Charles Nalle is being exhibited at the Rensselaer County Historical Society and Russell Sage College in February and March 2010.  


Press About Freeing Charles:

“Extensively researched and finely analyzed, Freeing Charles tells the gripping story of a fugitive slave rescue that has largely escaped our attention until now.” –Richard J. M. Blackett, author of Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War

“In this magnificently conceived and subtly rendered book, Scott Christianson not only brings to life the men and women of the Underground Railroad as they carry out one of the most dramatic rescues of a fugitive slave on record, he also guides us unflinchingly along the heartbreaking fault line of racial relations that warped life in America–inå both the North and the South–in the age of slavery.” –Fergus M. Bordewich, author of Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America

“Absorbing and eminently readable. With a large cast of characters, this stirring historical narrative centered on one incident also uses a wide-angle lens to reveal many other facets of slavery’s impact during the antebellum years.” –Jean M. Humez, author of Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories

“Scott Christianson’s beautifully written real life story of fugitive slave Charles Nalle, whose dramatic escape, recapture, and then rescue is one of the long forgotten yet incredibly important events in our nation’s history, is as compelling as the most thrilling contemporary fiction. Simmering tensions between freedom and slavery are abruptly thrown into dramatic public confrontation as notions of race and identity are challenged in ways long ignored by most Americans.  Christianson deftly weaves the complex realities of antebellum America – the ownership of human beings and the absolute control it endowed on owners and masters who were sometimes related by blood, and the legal and social structures that defined life for African Americans – through the lives of those who lived it. Not all white northerners were anti-slavery, and therefore life for refugees could be insecure and fraught with danger. But this book is a true testament to those sometimes-ordinary people who did extraordinary things for other human beings. Christianson serves up history like a master storyteller – a great dose of good vs. evil drama in the form of tragedy, triumph, love, illicit sex, and a cast of characters that will surprise and delight you.” –Kate Clifford Larson, Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero

“A vivid and arresting biography that focuses on one mid-nineteenth century man and his family, whom slavery constantly imperiled even after they freed themselves not only once, but several times. It is such stories that help us learn how much was at stake for anyone held to slavery and the lengths to which some white people would go to reverse attempts at self-emancipation.” –Philip J. Schwarz, author of Migrants against Slavery: Virginians and the Nation

3361 6th Ave
Troy, 12180 United States
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