I am an associate professor in the Department of History and an associate professor of law at Vanderbilt University, where I specialize in the history of slavery, race, and law in early America. I am interested in changing understandings of what law is and who it is for. I approach the study of the law and slavery from the bottom up. Rather than focusing on statutes and appellate court decisions as conclusive expressions of law, I examine trial court records, church disciplinary hearings, and other local legal records that emphasize the role ordinary people played in shaping legal processes. The antebellum U.S. South, in particular, offers a fruitful place for thinking broadly about who defines law and rights. Free and enslaved Black people were not only defendants or objects of regulation; trial court records reveal them to be prolific litigators as well. They were parties to civil suits in their own interests and directly active in legal proceedings -- even in the slave South. In their lawsuits, Black litigants exploited the language of property and rights, thus including themselves within a narrative of citizenship and privilege in advance of formal emancipation. When they made such claims at law, they expected the courts to validate and execute those claims. This interest in the intersection between law, rights, and race has led me from examining the world of legal “outsiders,” both Black and white; to how property featured in the African American legal imaginary; and from there to the gritty world of lending and borrowing across the color line.