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Visiting Author – Gail Shaffer Blankenau – Journey to Freedom: Uncovering the Grayson Sisters’ Escape from Nebraska Territory

March 26 @ 5:30 pm - 6:30 pm

On Tuesday, March 26th we will be joined by author Gail Shaffer Blankenau! She will be discussing her book Journey to Freedom, the first detailed history of Black enslavement in Nebraska Territory published by Bison Books of the University of Nebraska Press.

About the Book:

In late November of 1858 two enslaved Black women—Celia Grayson, age twenty-two, and Eliza Grayson, age twenty—escaped the Stephen F. Nuckolls household in southeastern Nebraska. John Williamson, a man of African American and Cherokee descent from Iowa, guided them through the dark to the Missouri River, where they boarded a skiff and crossed the icy waters, heading for their first stop on the Underground Railroad at Civil Bend, Iowa.

In Journey to Freedom Gail Shaffer Blankenau provides the first detailed history of Black enslavement in Nebraska Territory and the escape of these two enslaved Black women from Nebraska City. Poised on the “frontier,” the Graysons’ escape demonstrated that unique opportunities beckoned at the confluence of Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, and Kansas, and their actions challenged slavery’s tentative expansion into the West and its eventual demise in an era of territorial fluidity. Their escape and the violence that followed prompted considerable debate across the country and led to the Nebraska legislature’s move to prohibit slavery. Drawing on multiple collections, records, and slave narratives, Journey to Freedom sheds light on the Graysons’ courage and agency as they became high-profile figures in the national debate between proslavery and antislavery factions in the antebellum period.

About the Author:

Gail Shaffer Blankenau is a professional genealogist, historian, speaker, and author. She holds an MA degree in history from the
University of Nebraska–Kearney, and in 2023 she received the James L. Sellers prize for her article about the Grayson sisters in a
volume of Nebraska History magazine. Blankenau is from Nebraska and currently lives in Lincoln.

To order a copy of Gail’s book from F&F, click HERE


March 26
5:30 pm - 6:30 pm