Prudence Crandall's Legacy

Paul Harvey

Here's a book to recommend to you all because it tells you about something you think you know about, but it turns out most likely you probably don't, really -- except for you, Carol Faulkner, since this hits your bailiwick.

The book in question here is Donald Williams, Prudence Crandall's Legacy: The Fight for Equality in the 1830s, Dred Scott, and Brown v. Board of Education.  

This book definitively tells the amazing story of Prudence Crandall, the woman whose “School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color” in Canterbury, Connecticut led to a series of social conflicts over black citizenship rights. From her fledgling (and short-lived) attempt to educate young black women comes a direct line to court cases starting in Connecticut with Crandall v. State but soon leading to the Amistad  case, the Dred Scott decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, and eventually Brown v. Board. The dramatis personae of this book is incredible – nearly all the leading abolitionists, but especially Crandall’s ally William Lloyd Garrison, play important roles, as does a local lawyer and legislator named Andrew Judson who prosecuted and fought Crandall for years and denied that the Constitution afforded citizenship rights to blacks, only to later (and shockingly to President Martin Van Buren) issue a ruling for the defendants  in the Amistad case. Crandall survived more outrageous misfortune than seems humanly possible, including an eventual marriage to a mentally troubled man, but at the end of her financially straitened life had an offer from Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) to purchase her former home for her use. More than that, it seems like just about everyone of note in antebellum America interacted with Crandall, her friends, or her tormentors at one point or another. 

Crandall's long life and legacy take up most of the book -- the Brown v. Board part is a sort of epilogue. What I found most compelling here is just the wealth of detail of the day-to-day struggles of Crandall provided by the author, and the astonishing persistence with which local legal authorities pursued and basically persecuted her through the 1830s leading up to the court case State v. Crandall. It's no surprise that life for free blacks (and their allies) in the antebellum North could be incredibly difficult, but this story illuminates it in ways that will give you a new appreciation for the era. 


Carol Faulkner said…
Thanks for posting about this book Paul! I will definitely read it,and I know I'll learn something.

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