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Rice University professor scores prestigious Pulitzer Prize for book on slavery

Rice University professor scores prestigious Pulitzer Prize for book

Caleb McDaniel Rice University Pulitzer Prize
Rice University professor Caleb McDaniel has won the Pulitzer Prize for his book on a remarkable American woman.  Photo by Jeff Fitlow

A Rice University history professor has won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. Caleb McDaniel, associate professor and incoming chair of Rice’s Department of History, won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for History for his book, Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America.

The tome recounts the otherwise little-known story of Henrietta Wood, a woman who was enslaved twice and won the largest known financial settlement awarded by a U.S. court in restitution for slavery, some 30 years after she was first free.

McDaniel is the first Rice faculty member to win the Pulitzer Prize, according to a Rice University press release.

As the Pulitzer committee noted, McDaniel’s book used Wood’s story to explore the connections between slavery and the convict labor system that arose after the Civil War. McDaniel cited Wood’s successful lawsuit winning $2,500 from one of the men who enslaved her as evidence that African Americans fought from the beginning for redress and reparations over their enslavement.

Prison leasing arrangements continued to incarcerate and exploit the work of black men and women until the 1920s.

The book also raises the present-day discussion of reparations. “Here’s a story that shows the difference even a small amount of restitution can make in a particular person and family’s life,” noted McDaniel. “It’s such an amazing story and I was amazed that I had not heard of it before.”

“This is a tremendous and well-earned recognition for Caleb McDaniel and his spectacular and important book, Sweet Taste of Liberty,” said Rice president, David Leebron, in a statement. “Caleb is not only an outstanding scholar who we’re grateful to have at Rice, but also a faculty member who contributes in every possible way to the success of our students and our university.”