Only about 100 miles separate Hannibal, Missouri, the birthplace of Samuel Clemens, from Ferguson, the city where, in 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, was killed by white police officer Darren Wilson. Nor is Twain's nostalgic frontier world of dying Indians and fugitive slaves ever far from the violent racial repression -- and determined black resistance -- we now refer to as "Ferguson." From the Missouri Compromise and Dred Scott to the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Americans looked for answers to questions about race and nation in a Missouri that was every bit as turbulent and unpredictable as its mighty rivers.
Looking back from Ferguson, we will explore Missouri as the site of a mythic national childhood and the testing ground for an American law formed in race slavery. To do so, we will read Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) and classic works by Mark Twain -- Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn -- alongside a rich array of writing by cosmopolitan black Missourians. The latter will likely include literary polymath William Wells Brown's Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave (1848), and My Southern Home (1880); elite biracial scion Cyprian Clamorgan's The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis (1858); Elizabeth Keckley's slave narrative-cum-presidential-tell-all, Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House (1868); and Lucy's Delaney's firsthand account of a Dred Scott-like freedom suit, From Darkness Cometh the Light (c.1890s).