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Hurry Freedom


Hurry Freedom Stanley, Jerry. 2000. Hurry Freedom: African Americans in gold rush California. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN:  0517800942.

In this 2001 Orbis Pictus winner, Jerry Stanley tells the story of what life was like for African Americans during the Gold Rush in California in the late 1840's to 1850's.  They had come to California via different routes - some as slaves, some over the plains of the Southwest, and some by steamer.  Some found riches and were able to buy freedom for other family members, some never struck gold, and some ended up enslaved yet again.  But all found California to be an intolerant climate for the African-American man. 

In the introduction, Stanley explains, "Few African American forty-niners kept records of their experiences in California.  But Mifflin Wistar Gibbs did."  (Stanley, p.3)  Gibbs's rags-to-riches story is the unifying thread throughout the text, but also included are many accounts of the lives of other African Americans in California at this time.  Glaser praised Stanley's focus on Gibbs in her review for School Library Journal, which said, "This narrative choice lends the book a biographical feel rendering it highly readable." Gibbs was a successful entrepreneur but also an activist. Through telling the story of his crusade for one simple measure of equality - non-whites' right to testify in court - Stanley is able to bring in the history of the period and also tell the stories of many others. Carter commented on Stanley's choice to include stories of others in her review for Horn Book Magazine by stating, "Unfortunately, the account loses its strong focus when Stanley's narrative expands to include those African Americans mining for gold or working in the fields or struggling for basic freedoms in Sacramento.  Here, statistics (such as the numbers of African Americans living in various portions of the state or attending various conventions) substitute for the telling details of personal lives so richly employed in the sections on Gibbs and San Francisco." Although the stories of the struggles of other minorities are not as strong in focus, they do serve to give the reader a thorough look at the widespread prejudice of the day.

Stanley's writing style is conversational, and he sometimes speaks directly to the reader, such as "Imagine him sitting on a bench in a park reading about the events as they occured." (Stanley, p.72)  Stanley's dry wit also comes through at times when he seems to convey his disdain for the stupidity of the prejudice endured by Mifflin, such as this paragraph that closes chapter four and offers a description of the environment Gibbs and his partner faced when they opened their business:  "Two years before, a California newspaper had screamed, 'Free Negroes are idle and thriftless and we do not want them in the state!'  A year after that, William Gwin, United States senator from California, said, 'God created Negroes for slavery to serve the white race.  They are not suited for freedom and they are most happy as slaves.'  Mifflin Gibbs and Peter Lester ignored both statements and checked the cash register for a supply of change." (Stanley, p.35)

The book is illustrated with black and white photographs and drawings.  Many of the people profiled in the book, such as Mifflin Gibbs and Peter Lester, are shown in portraits.  The text is organized into nine chapters and also includes an introduction and an epiloge.  Each chapter is numbered and is also titled with an appropriate quote from that chapter.  The text is printed in a medium serif font, and each page includes significant white space on the outside edges.  A bibliographic note is written in paragraph form.  This note includes sources used, and they are organized by subject.  This two page note seems to open up Stanley's research notebook, and it allows the reader to see the depth of study put into this text.  There is also an extensive index and a section that lists picture credits.

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Holly S.
Graduate Student at Texas Woman's University