Although most histories of those who escaped slavery in the United States focus on people fleeing north to free states or across the Canadian border, between 3,000 and 5,000 enslaved people from the south-central U.S. claimed their freedom in Mexico. In South to Freedom, history professor and debut author Alice L. Baumgartner combines their personal stories with a study of policies relating to slavery in Mexico, the Republic of Texas and the United States that provides new insight into how the progress toward the American Civil War was influenced internationally.
Much of the book focuses on what was the Mexican province of Tejas at the time this period begins. Many Anglo-American immigrants from slave states expected to be able to bring enslaved people with them, in spite of longstanding policies granting more protection to fugitive slaves than in the United States or even Canada. Some of this material is familiar in broad strokes to those acquainted with how Texas became part of the United States, but Baumgartner examines the details of the aftermath of the Mexican-American War, in which large amounts of territory where slavery was already banned were ceded to the United States. She convincingly builds a case that deserves to be studied at a level with the Missouri Compromise and Bleeding Kansas in the origins of the American Civil War. All United States history buffs would do well to read this book and consider Baumgartner's commentary on why this part of North American history is so often ignored. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library