Priyanka Deo
Publish Date

University of Illinois Springfield Center for Lincoln Studies Director Jacob K. Friefeld’s book, “The First Migrants: How Black Homesteaders’ Quest for Land and Freedom Heralded America’s Great Migration,” co-authored with Richard Edwards, has been selected as a finalist for the 2024 Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) Book Prize.

Friefeld previously served as an Illinois and Midwest studies research historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield before coming to UIS.

"The First Migrants" intricately explores the histories of six Black homesteader communities, revealing their shared experiences and the themes shaping their pursuit of land and freedom. Through homestead records, diaries, letters, interviews with descendants and other sources, Edwards and Friefeld illuminate the homesteaders' determined quest for freedom, highlighting their significant achievements and struggles for full equality. The book was published in 2023 by Bison Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press.

The ASALH Book Prize, an annual accolade, acknowledges works showcasing rigorous and imaginative approaches to the study of African American history. ASALH is dedicated to promoting, researching, preserving, interpreting and disseminating information about Black life, history and culture.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “The First Migrants” is an important contribution to Black history and the larger history of the American West.”

“I’m absolutely over the moon about being selected as a finalist for this prize. ASALH sets the benchmark for supporting scholarship on Black history and making it accessible and to be listed among so many other important books and incredible authors is an honor,” Friefeld said. “It took time to bring conversations, census records, diaries and newspaper accounts together into a narrative that would be enjoyable to read for a general audience, but it was a labor of love.”

Friefeld, who has a doctorate in history from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has garnered critical acclaim and prominence in Midwestern and Western American history. His co-authored book, "Homesteading the Plains: Toward a New History," received the 2018 Nebraska Book Award for Nonfiction-History and was honored as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title by the Association of College and Research Libraries. Friefeld's contributions also include serving as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Great Plains Studies and managing the UNL History Harvest, a community-centered digital public history project.

The winner(s) of the ASALH Book Prize will be announced on ASALH TV at 6 p.m. EST on Feb. 20. This event is part of the 2024 ASALH Black History Month Festival.

About ASALH Book Prize

The ASALH Book Prize(link is external) awards an annual prize to recognize an outstanding book in the field of African American history and culture. Eligible book nominations must utilize archives, but submissions from various disciplines and interdisciplinary approaches are encouraged by the prize committee.