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Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century

tintype photo of a black married couple

“Soldier and Companion”, 1863-1865, Jackie Napoleon Wilson Collection

Americans have long viewed marriage between a white man and a white woman as a sacred union. But marriages between African Americans have seldom been treated with the same reverence. This discriminatory legacy traces back to centuries of slavery, when the overwhelming majority of black married couples were bound in servitude as well as wedlock, without legal protections. After emancipation, white racism continued to menace black marriages. Recognition of the right of African Americans to enter into wedlock on terms equal to whites would remain a struggle into the Jim Crow era, and its legacy would resonate well into the twentieth century. 

Co-Sponsored by the Department of History, the African & African Diaspora Studies Department, and the John L. Warfield Center for African & African American Studies


Tera W. Hunter is the Edwards Professor of History and Professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University. She is the author of two award-winning books: Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2017) and To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors After the Civil War (Harvard University Press, 1997). She has written opinion pieces for the New York Times, The Root.com, WashingtonPost.com, Christian Science Monitor.com, Ebony.com, (among others) and has been interviewed on National Public Radio.