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Stateside Podcast: One Michigan family's freedom papers

Courtesy Archives of Michigan

We owe a lot to our ancestors; it’s because of their successes, their resilience, even their faults, that we are here today. For many Black Americans, while ancestral history is always present, it's endured without much formal documentation.

The painful history of slavery in the United States hasn’t left behind much of a paper trail – and what we have is vague and inhumane. The incompleteness itself of this documentation speaks volumes.

Which is why Benjamin Hall’s family heirloom — a "manumission" or freedom paper – is such a big deal. On this episode, we looked at the legacy of Frank Demas, also known as Thomas Willis and the freedom paper that tells a larger history of chattel slavery in the U.S.


  • Rachel Clark, education specialist at the Archives of Michigan
  • Benjamin Hall, descendant of Frank Demas, also known as Thomas Willis.

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Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.