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Professor Awarded Civil Rights Prize

John Stauffer, associate professor of English and American Civilization, was recently awarded a major civil rights prize for his book, The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race.

Yale’s Lehrman Center named Stauffer the second place recipient of its prestigious Frederick Douglass Prize, honoring the most notable nonfiction book on slavery, resistance and abolitionism published in the past year.

“I’m absolutely thrilled. I was stunned and speechless and exhilarated,” Stauffer said yesterday.

Robert Harms, a professor of African studies and history at Yale, won the first place Douglass Prize for his book about a French slaving voyage entitled The Diligent: A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade. Harms will receive a medallion and $15,000 while Stauffer will win a medallion and $10,000.

Stauffer, who teaches classes on the Civil War and American protest literature, described his book as a “collective biography,” chronicling the lives of close friends Frederick Douglass, John Brown, James McCune Smith and Garret Smith and emphasizing their contributions to the radical abolitionist movement.

“These four men spanned the social spectrum. Douglass was a slave, and Garret Smith was one of the richest men in the country. I braided four characters together by their friendship and their biracial correspondence, while exploring the broader possibilities and limits of reforming America,” he said.

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Stauffer’s book was reviewed by a jury of scholars, specialists on slavery and previous Douglass Prize winners, who considered almost 40 books before suggesting a few to the review committee for the final selection.

The Lehrman Center, which is a part of the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, fosters research in all aspects of slavery and its destruction, according to Robert P. Forbes, the center’s associate director.

“Slavery was a far more extensive institution than most Americans are aware of. The value of money invested in human beings was more than virtually all other forms of capitalism. It was bigger than any industry is today,” Forbes said.

The prizes will be awarded at the Yale Club of New York on Feb. 27 during Black History Month.

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