Sherri Burr
Sherri Burr

University of New Mexico School of Law Professor Sherri Burr has received a prestigious one-month fellowship from the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies (ICJS) for her forthcoming book, “The Free Blacks of Virginia: Personal Narrative, a Legal Construct.”

Burr will to be able to consult with Monticello scholars and librarians and to utilize the resources of the Jefferson Library and the University of Virginia libraries. Since its founding, the ICJS has hosted nearly 300 domestic and international scholars from the U.S. and 25 countries around the world, including two Pulitzer-Prize winning historians. 

Burr’s book traces the history of the first Africans who landed on the shores of Virginia in 1619. They began their lives as indentured servants, similar to many European immigrants. After finishing their term of service, they were accorded liberties such as the right to vote, own property, and import both European and African servants. The mid to late 1600s brought the legal transformation of Africans from servants for a term to servants for life, or slaves with no rights.

Burr is a descendent of the free blacks, and she employs her own family’s history in Virginia to illustrate their growth through formal emancipation from slavery and births during the same time when their legal rights were systematically and dramatically restricted.

“I’m thrilled to receive this fellowship to support my research on the free blacks of Virginia,” said Burr. “I’m grateful to Dean David Herring for encouraging interdisciplinary scholarship at the UNM School of Law. I also thank Associate Dean Sergio Pareja for writing a letter of support. While others have written about the free blacks of Virginia, I may be the first to have actually descended from this group.”

Burr’s paper outlining the abstract for the book was recently listed on SSRN's Top Ten download list for several categories, including Humanities - Forthcoming Networks and African-American Studies Research Network.

Burr has won seven writing prizes related to books, including four awards for "A Short & Happy Guide to Financial Well-Being."