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Historian Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, who created database of over 100,000 enslaved people, dies at 93

Historian Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, who created database of over 100,000 enslaved people, dies at 93

'The database has helped thousands of African Americans find ancestors, connect families and trace cultural roots,' Whitney Plantation said.

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, the woman who created a database of more than 100,000 enslaved in Louisiana, died at the age of 93 on August 29. Born on June 17, 1929, Hall's Louisiana Slave Database contains 107,000 entries of people who were enslaved in the state between 1719 and 1820, reports PEOPLE. Hall was able to identify these people through plantation lists, criminal cases and documents such as wills, marriage contracts, leases and death certificates. 



 

 

Whitney Plantation said in a Facebook post, "The database has helped thousands of African Americans find ancestors, connect families and trace cultural roots." Hall was also well-known for her writing, which was mostly focused on novels on Afro-Creole and African American cultures. 

Hall passed away after suffering a stroke and a recurrence of breast cancer at her son, Haywood's house in Guanajuato, Mexico, according to The New York Times. Hall spent the majority of her academic career at Rutgers University where she taught Latin American history. She had a vivid early life as a civil rights activist. She didn't truly have an impact on colonial and African American history until her retirement.



 

 

Before Hall's database, most historians believed there was little information on Africans who were held as slaves during the colonial era throughout most of the 20th century; their origins and even many of their names were believed to have been forgotten. However, Hall proved otherwise. She took it upon herself to find not just names, but details like skills and personality traits of enslaved Africans brought to Louisiana in the 18th century in the poorly kept dusty records in a rural courthouse in southern Louisana. She took seven years to complete the historic database after starting in 1993 not just from records in Louisana but also in government libraries in Madrid and Paris. She told The New York Times in 2000, "I'm hoping this database will help smooth the path for others to make Africans concrete as human beings."

"Someday, people will be asking this database questions that I can't even imagine right now."



 

 

One of the most major works of Hall besides the database is the book titled "Africans in Colonial Louisiana." The book talks about the development of Afro-Creole culture in the region during the 18th century. According to retired Tulane University history professor Lawrence Powell, the book is "indispensable," because it demonstrates both the African ethnic groups that the enslaved people originated from as well as the methods in which they adapted to their new environments, according to NOLA.com.

Powell told the outlet, "You cannot write the history of Louisiana or the South without reference to that book and the trails she blazed. It shows how [slaves] coexisted and created a culture across language barriers. It’s a story of displaced people under pretty grueling conditions and how essential they were to the creation of New Orleans."



 

 

Ned Sublette, a longtime friend of Hall, said that documenting the oppression of slavery was "the animating passion of Gwen’s life." Hall wrote in the preface of her 2021 memoir titled, "Haunted by Slavery: A Southern White Woman in the Freedom Struggle, " that she wanted her scholarship to showcase, "the story of the oppressed, wherever they are from, not only as victims but as people in a constant state of struggle and creation."

Alles Gwendolyn Mildo Hall at Whitney Plantation, which was created in her honor, has two L-shaped walls bearing the name of 107,000 people in her database. Ibrahima Seck, research director at Whitney Plantation, said that her ashes will also be placed in the hall to honor her work and contribution.



 

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