Professor Paul Finkelman appeared on the PBS program Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on May 13.
The episode, part of a long-running series that seeks to "discover who we are and where we come from," focused on Grammy-winning recording artist John Legend.
According to Professor Finkelman:
"The ancestors of the musician John Legend were free blacks living in southern Ohio when they were kidnapped and taken to Virginia and Kentucky and illegally sold as slaves. The governor and legislature of Ohio were immediately on the case, hiring attorney and sending lawyers and officials to both states. The children taken to Kentucky were freed relatively quickly and returned home. Those taken to Virginia were, unfortunately, kept in slavery until the end of the Civil War."
"Legend's family history shows how fragile freedom was for blacks, even in the North, how northern states like Ohio were willing to spend money and time to protect the liberty of their free black residents, and how states like Virginia fought against freedom, even when those held in slavery were legally free. As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, this reminds us how hard Virginia fought to keep people in slavery even before that state seceded."
Professor Finkelman was also recently interviewed by C-SPAN on the 19th Century practice of kidnapping children for slavery in U.S. cities.
The President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy at Albany Law School, Professor Finkelman is the author of more than 150 scholarly articles and more than 25 books. He was named the ninth most cited legal historian according to Brian Leieter's Law School Rankings.
He is an expert in areas such as American legal history, race and the law, the law of slavery, constitutional law and legal issues surrounding baseball.
Professor Finkelman was the chief expert witness in the Alabama Ten Commandments monument case, and his scholarship has been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in Van Orden v. Perry (2005) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010). He was also a key witness in the suit over who owned Barry Bonds' 73rd home run ball.