Ambiguous Lives


Free Women of Color in Rural Georgia, 1789–1879
Adele Logan Alexander
978-1-55728-215-6 (paper)
December 1992


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Historians have produced scores of studies on white men, extraordinary white women, and even the often anonymous mass of enslaved Black people in the United States. But in this innovative work, Adele Logan Alexander chronicles there heretofore undocumented dilemmas of one of nineteenth-century America’s most marginalized groups—free women of color in the rural South.

Ambiguous Lives focuses on the women of Alexander’s own family as representative of this subcaste of the African-American community. Their forbears, in fact, included Africans, Native Americans, and whites. Neither black nor white, affluent nor impoverished, enslaved nor truly free, these women of color lived and died in a shadowy realm situated somewhere between the legal, social, and economic extremes of empowered whites and subjugated blacks. Yet, as Alexander persuasively argues, these lives are worthy of attention precisely because of these ambiguities—because the intricacies, gradations, and subtleties of their anomalous experience became part of the tangled skein of American history and exemplify our country’s endless diversity, complexity, and self-contradictions.

Written as a “reclamation” of a long-ignored substratum of our society, Ambiguous Lives is more than the story of one family—it is a well-researched and fascinating profile of America, its race and gender relations, and its complex cultural weave.

Ambiguous Lives is a valuable act of reclamation and an elegant work of original scholarship. Adele Logan Alexander has given us a book for which we can all be grateful.”
—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

“An engrossing story, Adele Logan Alexander’s Ambiguous Lives offers the first attempt to track the hidden story of free women of color in antebellum Georgia.”
—Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

“Adele Logan Alexander’s painstaking research uncovers a wealth of information that is sure to stimulate further research and discussion. The account is clearly written, concise, informative, and provides enjoyable reading.”
—Mary Frances Berry

“[Ambiguous Lives] is full of exciting research and penetrating analysis and forces us to rethink our assumptions about color and class in the Old South.”
—Catherine Clinton

“An extraordinary story, deeply researched and lovingly told. . . . Alexander adds immensely to our understanding of the complexity of Southern society.”
—Ira Berlin

1992 Myers Center Outstanding Book on Human Rights

The Black Community Studies Series was edited by Dr. Willard Gatewood.