William G. Thomas III, John and Catherine Angle Chair in the Humanities and a professor in the Department of History, has earned the Mark Lynton History Prize for his book "A Question of Freedom: The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation's Founding to the Civil War." The prize is one of four J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards honoring excellence in nonfiction writing.
Established in 1998 and co-administered by the Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, is awarded to book-length work of narrative history, on any subject, that best combines intellectual distinction with felicity of expression.
"Thomas III tells an intensely human and intricate story about the enslaved families of Prince George's County, Maryland, who filed hundreds of suits for their freedom against a powerful circle of slaveholders," the organization wrote in the announcement, "beginning with the Jesuit priests who owned some of the largest plantations in the nation and founded a college at Georgetown on the Potomac River."
Thomas is Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education in the College of Arts and Sciences. His book was published by Yale University Press in November and shortlisted for the award in February.
"It begins with a bridge," the judges wrote in the citation. "The opening pages of William G. Thomas III’s astonishing and monumental book, A Question of Freedom, recount his drive to a 2017 religious service at Georgetown University, for which he must first cross the Francis Scott Key Bridge. The service has been convened to force a moral reckoning with ghastly crimes: The enslavement of human beings. The destruction of families. The crushing of souls.
"Throughout this extraordinary work, Thomas details the court cases brought by slaves to demand their freedom. And he insists that we learn the names of the families — among them, the Queens and the Butlers — whose brave members used the law to require a fledgling nation to live up to its stated ideal of equality."