TCNJ Magazine - Spring 2019

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38 The College of New Jersey Magazine "I found the intellectual capacity, the nature of their escapes, was really quite striking," Audain says. She is turning her research into a book, tentatively titled Mexican Canaan: Fugitive Slave Escapes to Spanish Texas and Northeastern Mexico, 1804–1865. She hopes to publish in Spanish as well as English in order to increase awareness and scholarly interest on both sides of the border. And, although Audain's re- search focuses through the rear- view mirror of U.S. history, it has proven timely as immigration policy — and the construction of a wall along Mexico's border — is E llen Friedman had moved across much of the world by the time she was six years old: Kyrgyzstan to Poland, Germany to America. An only child of Polish Jews who fled Warsaw in 1939, Friedman was born in the midst of her family's wartime odyssey, one that included time in a Soviet gulag that likely saved her parents' lives. It is a story that Friedman, an English professor, learned only in bits and pieces while later growing up in Vineland, New Jersey. Her parents didn't volunteer their story; they had suffered, but fared better than so many others. "They didn't see themselves as Holocaust survivors," Friedman says. "They saw themselves as refugees. They had met concen- tration camp survivors in Poland. In comparison, they were silent." But in the 1970s, interest in the Holocaust pushed the subject to the forefront of popular culture and prompted Friedman's own awakening to the significance of her family's journey. She began to ask questions. Her 2017 book, The Seven, A Family Holocaust Story, grew from the answers she found. Part oral history, part memoir, the book illuminates the lesser- known history of the 300,000 Jews who escaped Poland for the Soviet Union during WWII. At heart, the book is a complicated and unsentimental story of family and exile. Project for any mention of escapes to Mexico, where slavery was abolished in 1829. The research became the subject of her senior seminar paper and changed her life's direction. Now Audain, who joined TCNJ's faculty in 2015, is one of a small community of historians in the U.S. working to uncover the largely untold story of fugitive slave escapes across the southern border. The exact number of people who found freedom in Mexico is unknown; one 19th-century account estimated about 4,000. So far, Audain has discov- ered roughly 300 specific escapes, beginning in 1804, from Louisiana to a region called Spanish Texas, a province of colonial Mexico until 1821. Audain also found escape stories from Louisiana and Texas across the Rio Grande to Mexico between the 1820s and 1865. Sleuthing out these stories is a challenge. While the abolitionist movement produced many narratives recounting fugitive escapes through " WE THINK ABOUT BORDERS AS A WAY to keep people out. But in the 19th century, the border certainly functioned as way to keep enslaved black people within the U.S." the North and into Canada, there are no similar resources for scholars studying the southern border. "It's a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle," Audain says. Using libraries at the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas and the National Archives in Mexico City, Audain has filled in some of the blanks. In her work, she highlights the threats faced by fugitive slaves in the South, from possible capture by the Texas Rangers and U.S. military to the geography of Texas itself; swaths of prairie grass and scattered oak trees pro- vided little camouflage for those who needed it. And, unlike the North, which contained more easily accessible networks of abolitionists and sympathizers, Audain says, fugitive slaves seeking the southern border crossed a sparsely populated state which offered little or no assistance. debated. Consider, Audain says, how the purpose of the border itself has changed over time. "We think about borders as a way to keep people out," she says. "But in the 19th century, the border certainly functioned as way to keep enslaved black people within the U.S." The notion of freedom has long fascinated Audain. As a girl, she spent her pocket money buying slave narratives at school book sales, foreshadowing what would become her chosen field of study. Says Audain, "I liked the idea of people searching for freedom in a system that was trying to stop them."

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