Wong’s essay investigates James Williams’s largely forgotten postbellum slave narrative, The Life and Adventures of James Williams, A Fugitive Slave (1873) to chart the various constellations of racial formations emerging from the politics and cultures of early black westward migration. Williams’s once-popular autobiography chronicling his experiences as a fugitive slave and California gold miner knits together stories from the Underground Railroad with firsthand observations on Chinese labor migration and Indian resettlement in the West. This essay reads Williams’s narrative alongside the key legal and political contexts that gave its narrative shape (and to which Williams addressed his text), including California Governor John Bigler’s anti-coolieism campaign (1852), the California Supreme Court ruling in People v. Hall (1854), and the widely publicized Modoc War (1872–73). It builds upon the analytics for articulating racial difference honed in US race and ethnic studies to help illuminate Williams’s literary efforts to formulate an early politics of comparative racialization.

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