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R. Isabela Morales Shares the Remarkable Story of the Townsend Family

Published on Mar 27, 2023

On March 29th, 2023, the Shapiro Book Prize winner for Happy Dreams of Liberty: An American Family in Slavery and Freedom, Dr. R. Isabel Morales will share the remarkable story of the Townsend family’s journey from slavery to freedom, from Alabama to the American West, and from the antebellum period to the rise of Jim Crow.

The Townsends were a family of mixed race, born from the union of a wealthy white cotton planter and several enslaved African American women whom he owned. When their father died, the Townsends were emancipated and inherited his $200,000 fortune. Seeking communities where they could exercise their freedom and wealth to the fullest, members of the Townsend family homesteaded in Ohio and Kansas, fought for the Union Army in Mississippi, mined for silver in the Colorado Rockies, and even returned to Alabama to purchase part of the old plantation where they had once been enslaved.

Morales’s talk will delve into the significance of writing family history, the challenges of tracing the lives of enslaved people, and the incredible cache of unpublished letters and legal documents that form the archival core of her book. It promises to be a fascinating insight into the process of uncovering a family’s hidden past and shining a light on the often-overlooked contributions of people of color to American history.

The lecture will take place in Rothenberg Hall at The Huntington. This event will also be livestreamed at 7:30 p.m. (PT) and recorded for later viewing. Reserve your spot today to join in the celebration of Dr. Morales’s achievement and to hear the incredible story of the Townsend family. The event will be followed by a reception where light refreshments will be served.

The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino. For reservations visit:

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