William Thomas is a historian, author, and digital media producer. A native of Alexandria, Virginia, he writes about American legal history, slavery, the South, and the Civil War. He is a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow.Thomas is currently working on a book called Out of the Vineyard: The Freedom Suits and the Families That Challenged American Slavery (under contract with Yale University Press), about enslaved families in Maryland who sued for their freedom in the decades after the American Revolution.
He is also co-producing a series of animated historical films. The first of these features the story of Anna, Ann Williams, and her successful petition for freedom in the D.C. Circuit Court. These stories burrow into the historical record to explore how we know what we know about family histories and why we need moral imagination to confront what we find in the past. Thomas and co-producers Kwakiutl Dreher and Michael Burton are currently producing a feature-length live action animation titled The Bell Affair set in 1835 in Washington, D.C., about family, politics, slavery, and the making and meaning of freedom. The Bell Affair tells the story of Daniel Bell, who launched a lawsuit to make his family free just as a labor strike, a lynch mob, and a race riot erupted in the nation’s capital in the late summer of 1835.