Celia, a Slave


Melton McLaurin

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Celia, a Slave Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Melton McLaurin's Celia, a Slave. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Melton McLaurin

Melton McLaurin grew up in North Carolina and later attended college at East Carolina University. He received an MA in history, and later a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina, where his research focused on the Southern cotton industry during the Reconstruction era. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, he worked as an instructor at the University of South Carolina and the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. He joined the faculty at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington in 1977, and was made a professor emeritus in 2004. He’s published many well-received books, including Knights of Labor in the South (1978), about the union movement, and The Marines of Montford Point (2007), about the history of black marines.
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Historical Context of Celia, a Slave

Celia, A Slave revolves around the history of slavery in the United States, especially in the 1840s and 1850s. While there are too many historical events in the book to name, McLaurin notes the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Bleeding Kansas riots of the 1850s as being particularly important. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was a political agreement whereby Missouri was admitted to the Union as a slave state, on the condition that Maine be admitted as a free state. The compromise was seen as a major victory for supporters of slavery, because it established a political precedent for admitting slave states to the Union. Three decades later, the situation in Missouri and neighboring Kansas had become violent. Supporters and opponents of slavery demonstrated and in some cases rioted to protest what they saw as the other side’s unfair tactics and immoral views. The situation showed that slavery had become a highly controversial issue, over which Americans refused to compromise. In this way, Bleeding Kansas foreshadowed the beginning of the Civil War a couple years later.

Other Books Related to Celia, a Slave

There are many masterpieces of American literature that portray slavery from the perspective of female slaves. Two of the most notable are Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852) and Beloved by Toni Morrison (1988), which features many flashbacks to the antebellum period. Readers who are curious about the history of slavery in the U.S. should consult Steven Hahn’s excellent A Nation Under Our Feet (2003), a history of slavery that discusses the personal experiences of slaves as well as the political and ideological sides of slavery.
Key Facts about Celia, a Slave
  • Full Title: Celia, A Slave: A True Story
  • When Written: 1989-1991
  • Where Written: Wilmington, North Carolina
  • When Published: Fall 1991
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Historical nonfiction
  • Setting: Callaway County, Missouri, 1850s
  • Climax: Celia is sentenced to death for killing Robert Newsom
  • Antagonist: Robert Newsom / the institution of slavery
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for Celia, a Slave

A distinguished academic. Professor McLaurin has received many prestigious fellowships and awards for his research, including the Southern Humanities Council grant, the Teaching Excellence Award from UNC Wilmington, and the Randall Library Scholar Award.

Busy guy. McLaurin hasn’t slowed down in the last ten years; he’s currently working on a book on the history of Southern autobiography.