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Fronteras: 'South To Freedom' Explores Mexico's Rise As An Antislavery Republic

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Historian Alice Baumgartner's "South to Freedom" tells the story of Mexico's rise as an antislavery republic and a promised land for enslaved people in North America.
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Historian Alice Baumgartner's "South to Freedom" tells the story of Mexico's rise as an antislavery republic and a promised land for enslaved people in North America.
Alice L. Baumgartner is assistant professor of history at the University of Southern California and author of "South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War."
Paul Luke
Alice L. Baumgartner is assistant professor of history at the University of Southern California and author of "South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War."

The 1829 Guerrero Decree abolished slavery throughout Mexican territories. The stance began to alarm white slave owners in the southern U.S. states as enslaved people began seeking refuge in Mexico rather than making the trek to the north.

Little is known about the thousands of slaves who fled south of the border including to the Mexican state of Tejas y Coahuila — much of what is now Texas.

“The Mexican government really was committed to not letting slavery expand,” said Alice Baumgartner, assistant professor of history at the University of Southern California. “They were willing to accept where it existed, but they tried unsuccessfully to stop, for instance, Anglo American colonists who were coming to Texas.”

Baumgartner is author of “South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War.” Her work explores not only how Mexico shaped the freedom of enslaved people in southern states but also the various loopholes slave owners jumped through to keep and expand the practice. That includes arguing interference with slavery was a violation of property rights and forcing enslaved people to sign lifetime indentured contracts.

Baumgartner draws parallels between U.S. and Mexican history on issues of race and nationalism as well as the conditions in place for the coming of the U.S. Civil War.

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren