Announcing the 2023 Tom Watson Brown Book Award Winner

Announcing the 2023 Tom Watson Brown Book Award Winner

The Society of Civil War Historians and the Watson-Brown Foundation are proud to announce that R. Isabela Morales is the recipient of the 2023 Tom Watson Brown Book Award. Dr. Morales earned the award for Happy Dreams of Liberty: An American Family in Slavery and Freedom which was published in 2022 by Oxford University Press. The $50,000 award is funded by the Watson-Brown Foundation in honor of Tom Watson Brown, a dedicated student of the Civil War.

Portrait of a woman in a white shirt with a brick background. In making its selection, the prize committee stated: “Happy Dreams of Liberty tells the story of the extended Townsend family: African Americans freed by the wills of Samuel and Edward Townsend, their fathers and enslavers in Alabama. With graceful prose and deep empathy R. Isabela Morales tells a sweeping American story of multiple generations’ struggles to first gain their freedom, then preserve it and thrive through the tumultuous Civil War and Reconstructions eras. We follow the Townsends from Alabama to Ohio, Kansas, and Colorado as they search for places where they can live free from interference and discrimination. This is a model of microhistory, using the Townsend’s unique circumstances to illuminate broad questions about race, color, and liberty.

This is a sprawling family drama, full of contradictions and conflict. Morales tells it beautifully, almost novelistically, by imbuing it with atmosphere and minute detail. Some Townsends attended Wilberforce in Ohio before the Civil War, another fought in the Union Army. After the war, one became a successful barber and entrepreneur in Colorado, and another returned to Alabama as a politician, clinging to political power as the constrictions of Jim Crow closed in.

The book is a powerful read, one that is as much the story of America in the nineteenth century as it is the story of a family. We are unanimous in our praise for, and selection of, this important work.”

The Watson Brown Book Award jury consisted of Anne Sarah Rubin (chair), Frances M. Clarke, Adam Rothman, and Tad Brown, President of the Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc.

Dr. Morales will be honored at the SCWH banquet taking place this November during the 2023 Annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association, held this year in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Congratulations Dr. Morales!

Hilary N. Green

Hilary N. Green is the James B. Duke Professor of Africana Studies at Davidson College. She previously worked in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama where she developed the Hallowed Grounds Project. She earned her M.A. in History from Tufts University in 2003, and Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010. Her research and teaching interests include the intersections of race, class, and gender in African American history, the American Civil War, Reconstruction, as well as Civil War memory, African American education, and the Black Atlantic. She is the author of Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890 (Fordham, 2016).

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