Women in Missouri History: In Search of Power and Influence

By Leeann Whites; Mary C. Neth et al. | Go to book overview

Her Will against Theirs

Eda Hickam and the Ambiguity of
Freedom in Postbellum Missouri

Kimberly Schreck

In 1890, some twenty-five years after the institution of slavery had been officially abolished, a forty-two-year-old African American woman living in Cooper County, Missouri, filed suit against the white family with whom she had lived since childhood. Eda Hickam had been a slave in the Hickam household since the age of seven, and she said that, despite the abolition of slavery in the United States, she had continued to live and work as a slave from 1865 to 1889. It was not until her slaveholder, Joseph Hickam, died in 1889, that she was informed of her freedom. In her suit, she claimed that she deserved back wages for the twenty-five years the Hickam family had kept her in ignorance of her freedom. She would spend the next four years trying to gain compensation from Joseph Hickam's estate. This peculiar scenario—that a slave never heard about emancipation and that a white family concealed an event of such magnitude from her—was the story that arose in Eda Hickam's court trials. Her attorneys sought to prove that she had been fraudulently led to believe she was still a slave, while the attorneys for the white Hickam family argued she had been informed of her freedom and had knowingly

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This article was published in slightly different form in Beyond Image and Convention: Explorations in Southern Women's History, ed. Janet L. Coryell, Martha H. Swain, Sandra Gioia Treadway, and Elizabeth Hayes Turner (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998), 99—118.

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