Category Archives: After Slavery

Col. James C. Beecher on the Massacre of Wounded Black Troops at Olustee

Olustee
Black Union troops marching into battle at Olustee
(Lithographic print, 1894)

Some of our readers may know that a controversy has arisen been promoted by neo-Confederates over a proposal to memorialize Union solders killed in the bloody Battle of Olustee (or Ocean Pond, as Northerners remembered it), which took place in Florida in February 1864. As Brooks Simpson reports on his excellent blog, at least one Confederate veteran recalled pretty clearly that black Union soldiers were murdered as they lay wounded in the aftermath of the battle. That assertion is supported by evidence from the papers of Colonel James C. Beecher, who commanded the 35th USCT (formerly the 1st North Carolina Colored Volunteers) at Olustee. Writing to his wife two months after the events, Beecher insists:

Olustee Monument 1912
Confederate survivors of Olustee, 1912: Memorializing Race Massacre?

“…there is now no doubt that all of my wounded men left on the field at Olustee were bayoneted in cold blood. It is said to have been done by some South Carolina troops.

The enemy report only 18 prisoners from my command. At least fifty were known to have been left on the field and at the depot at Sanderson and Berbers Station.

You may judge this does not make me particularly happy. Especially when the new man came to relieve Gen. Seymour.* While he pities the poor ‘Loyal Floridians’ who suffer so much from the effects of the war [he doesn’t] see anything particularly out of the way in this. Says he has no doubt my wounded were murdered, but that its “very hard to restrain men when their blood is up” etc etc.

If there were but ten stupid Generals in the whole army of the United States, each one of the ten would be assigned to command a district, and there wouldn’t be but ten districts made unless an eleventh stupid G. could be put in charge of it.”

Source: J. C. Beecher (Jacksonville) to ‘My beloved’, 13 April 1864, James C. Beecher Papers, Radcliffe College, Schlesinger Library

*General Truman Seymour was relieved of his command after the Olustee disaster and replaced by General John B. Hatch, who would later come into confrontation with freedpeople in Charleston over his leniency toward former Confederates.

Images courtesy of Florida State Archives, Florida Memory

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Documents from the Slaves’ Civil War: Union Troops Return a ‘Fugitive Slave’ at St. Augustine

“I regret to inform you that I found the place [St. Augustine] full of open and avowed traitors. I was insulted in the streets by secession females. I learned that there were women residing there whose husbands are in the rebel service, and who are receiving rations from our Government. Seventy-five slaves are receiving wages from our people, who are owned by rebel masters, and their wages are paid over to the agents of these masters.

St Augustine Slave Market
The ‘Old Slave Market’ at St. Augustine, ca. 1886
Courtesy of Southern Methodist University, DeGolyer Library

[Recounting an incident involving a slave handed over to his ‘master’ in Florida]: While I was in St. Augustine, I was informed…that a fugitive slave who ran away from his rebel master—a man named Col. Titus (of Kansas notoriety)* and who holds a commission in the rebel army—was delivered up to said Titus by virtue of an order signed by Capt. Foster [in] circumstances…so disgraceful to our army that I felt it my duty to report them. This negro came to our lines from his rebel master heavily [wounded], having traveled a distance of eight miles in this condition to our pickets. He remained with our troops until [Titus] came with an order signed by Capt. Foster…directing Col. Sleeper to deliver him to his owner. He was delivered to Col. Titus. On receiving this negro Col. Titus put a slipping noose rope around the negro’s neck, with a timber pitch at his arm, mounted his horse and dragged the poor victim off in the presence of our troops….

On the day of my arrival [at St Simon’s Island, Georgia] a party of rebels came over to the island for the purpose of murdering the negroes. They were immediately attacked by the negro pickets and surrounded in a swamp. There were about twenty men on either side, and quite a brisk action occurred. The negroes lost two killed and one wounded severely. The rebel loss is not known, as they fled, and succeeded in making their escape from the island….”

General Rufus B. Saxton to Edwin M. Stanton, 20 Aug 1862, Rufus and S. Willard Saxton Papers, Sterling Memorial Library: Yale University

* Colonel Henry T. Titus (after whom the town of Titusville, Florida, is named) was a northern-born Confederate who before the war had traveled to Kansas to join proslavery ‘border ruffians’ there, playing a prominent role in the sacking of Lawrence and at one point reportedly holding two of John Brown’s sons as prisoners.

Documents from the Slaves’ Civil War: “A storm am brewin’ in de Souf”

Rice
Antebellum Georgetown was key to South Carolina’s lucrative rice industry: like much of the Carolina lowcountry it was home to large slave majorities

In his Life in Dixie Land, or the South in Secession Time, ‘Edmund Kirke’ (pen name for the New York journalist James R. Gilmore) records the following conversation he had with a slave teamster in 1862. According to Kirke, his driver was African-born, and had been brought to the Carolinas at a young age via Cuba, eventually ending up working as a porter on the streets and wharves of Georgetown, 65 miles north of Charleston. Kirke remarks that “three days with him (a ‘remarkable negro’ of ‘superior intelligence’) banished from my mind all doubt as to the capacity of the black for freedom, and all question as to the disposition of the slave to strike off his chains when the favourable moment arrives. From him I learned that the blacks, though pretending ignorance, are fully acquainted with the questions at issue in the present contest.” As an example Kirke recalls the response he received (rendered ‘in dialect’) when he suggested that the war would leave the slaves “no better off”: “No, massa, ‘t won’t do that. De Souf will fight hard, and de Norf will get de blood up, and come down har, and do ‘way wid de cause ob all de trubble–and dat am de nigga…. When (the South) fight de Norf wid de right hand, dey’ll hev to hold de nigga wid de the leff.”

Bright Side
Winslow Homer’s “Bright Side” (1865) depicts black teamsters at rest in a Union Army camp

As an example of the slaves’ familiarity with the essence of the war, Kirke recalled the words of a song “then current among the negroes of the district.” Its content is the more remarkable for the fact that it seems to have foreseen enlistment of black northerners in the Union Army:

Hark! Darkies, hark! It am de drum

Dat calls ole Massa way from hum,

Wid powder-pouch and loaded gun,

To drive ole Abe from Washington;

Oh! Massa’s gwine to Washington,

So clar de way to Washington–

Oh! wont dis darky hab sum fun

When Massa’s gwine to Washington!

Ole Massa say ole Abe will eat

De niggas all, excep’ de feet–

De feet, may be, will cut and run

When Massa gets to Washington.

Dis nigger know ole Abe will save

His brudder man, de darky slave,

And dat he’ll let him cut and run

When Massa gets to Washington.

The next is in similar vein:–

A storm am brewin’ in de Souf,

A storm am brewin’ now,

Oh! hearken den and shut your mouf,

And I will tell you how:

And I will tell you how, ole boy,

De Storm of fire will pour,

And make de darkies dance for joy,

As dey neber danced afore.

So shut your mouf as close as deafh,

And all you niggas hole your breafh,

And I will tell you how.

De darkies at de Norf am rise,

And dey am comin’ down–

Am comin’ down, I know dey is,

To do de white folks brown!

Dey’ll turn ol’ Massa out to grass,

And set de niggas free,

And when dat day am come to pass

We’ll all be dar to see!

So shut your mouf as close as deafh,

And all you niggas hole your breafh,

And do de white folks brown!

‘Den all de week will be as gay

As am de Chris’mas time;

We’ll dance all night and all de day,

And make de banjo chime–

And make de banjo chime, I tink,

And pass de time away,

Wid ’nuff to eat and ’nuff to drink,

And not a bit to pay!

So shut your mouf as close as deafh,

And all you niggas hole your breafh,

And make de banjo chime.

Oh! make de banjo chime, you nigs,

And sound de tamborin,

And shuffle now de merry jigs,

For Massa’s ‘gwine in’–

For Massa’s ‘gwine in,’ I know,

And won’t he hab de shakes,

When Yankee darkies show him how

Dey cotch de rattlesnakes!

So shut your mouf as close as deafh,

And all you niggas hole your breafh,

For Massa’s ‘gwine in’–

For Massa’s ‘qwine in,’ I know,

And won’t he hab de shakes,

When Yankee darkies show him how

Dey cotch the rattlesnakes!*

*symbol for the state of South Carolina

Source: Edmund Kirke, Life in Dixie Land, or The South in Secession Time (London, 1863), 14-16.

AS Talks to Historian Glenn David Brasher

In our ongoing series of interviews with scholars working on the Civil War and Reconstruction, After Slavery blogger Brian Kelly interviews historian Glenn David Brasher about his award-winning study, The Peninsula Campaign & the Necessity of Emancipation (UNC Press, 2012). Brasher, formerly a battlefield site interpreter for the US National Park Service, teaches nineteenth-century US history at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He is the recipient of the 2013 Wiley-Silver Award from the Center for Civil War Research at the University of Mississippi.

BK: In the introduction to The Peninsula Campaign, you discuss your experience in coverthe National Park Service and your dissatisfaction with the way the war was presented to the public as an early motivation for undertaking this study. Can you share with our readers some of what compelled you to begin the research and follow it through to publication?

GDB: I was a seasonal park ranger at Richmond National Battlefield Park for 8 summers during the 1990s, and during that time I saw very few African American visitors. This fact stood out to me, because black participation in the Civil War was one of the first things that got me really interested in studying the conflict. As a young white college student from Alabama, seeing the movie Glory in 1989 was a particularly eye-opening experience. From the African-American perspective, the war was a fight for personal freedom, and that aspect seemed especially intriguing to me. Thus it seemed strange that very few blacks seemed to be interested in the war.

Yet at that time, the National Park Service was only just then starting to feature interpretation that included stories about slavery, slaves, and black troops. At Richmond, the displays were very dated and mostly just told stories about white soldiers and battlefield tactics. There was essentially nothing about slavery’s centrality to the causes of the war, or the war’s impact on bringing emancipation—much less anything about African-American participation in the war. I had to wonder, if blacks did come to the battlefields, was there anything there to particularly intrigue them or educate them about the role of blacks in the Civil War? The answer seemed to offer a good explanation for why few ever came.

BrasherMuch of this has changed now, and the Richmond Battlefield has come very far in placing the war into a larger context, especially in its main visitor’s center at the Tredegar Ironworks. I have friends who work there, and I can tell you that there are some very fine historians on that staff who see the war as more than just battlefield tactics. Additionally, the park includes sites associated with the 1864 battles around the city, and this allows them to nicely incorporate the story of black troops later in the war.

Still, most of the park’s sites are associated with the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, and African-American perspectives on this event are much less obvious. The Union failure in the campaign was one of the primary events that convinced many Northerners that it was a military necessity to emancipate slaves in order to win the war. It is no coincidence that in the weeks after the campaign, Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act and Lincoln proposed an Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet.

Yet the battlefield park’s interpretations focused almost exclusively on Union general George McClellan’s failure to capture Richmond and Robert E. Lee’s ascension to command. There was basically nothing to show that the campaign had had such a pivotal role in turning the war into one that led to emancipation. Even less featured at the park was the role that African Americans themselves played in shaping the campaign.

Frank Leslie's Illustrated, Nov. 1861
“Morning Mustering of the Contrabands” (Fortress Monroe)
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated, Nov. 1861

In many ways, my book was written as an effort to correct these shortcomings. I’d really like to play some role in changing the ways that we look at the Peninsula Campaign—not just the Park Service, but also the public at large. I’m not interested in writing books that only find an audience among other academics. As a result, my book avoids jargon and theory, and just tries to tell a good story—a story that hopefully will get people looking at this military campaign in a new way. I was drawn to Civil War history by a movie, and my time as a park interpreter honed my conviction that public history has an essential impact on shaping perceptions of historical events. Thus I firmly believe that as academics we have to get more involved in bringing solid interpretations to larger audiences.

BK: I’ll come back to the interpretive angle of your work later, because I think you’re being a bit modest in that regard, but let me ask you about one of the central contributions, as I see it: your focus on the essential role that slaves played—usually as impressed laborers—in making it possible for the Confederate military to prosecute the war. In the end its dependency on this source of labor seems to come back to haunt the Confederacy. Can you elaborate?

GDB: It does come back to haunt them in a big way. From the start of the war, Southerners publicly boasted that their slaves would be a source of strength to their cause, and in the first two years that certainty turned out to be true: not because the enslaved voluntarily served the Confederacy, but because they were impressed into building fortifications and entrenchments. Most white Southerners viewed menial labor as work fit only for black men, and Confederate leaders found it exceedingly difficult to get white soldiers to perform this essential labor effectively (this changed by the end of the war). As a result, the early Confederacy relied heavily on slave impressment.

As other historians have shown, slaveowners grumbled and complained about impressment because of how hard their slaves were worked by the government, and because the war deprived masters of the services of their laborers at critical times in the agricultural season. Stephanie McCurry’s Confederate Reckoning, for example, argues that slaveowner resistance is another indication of how weak the Confederacy was internally: she uses it to question the degree and power of southern nationalism. I think my own work, and especially Jaime Amanda Martinez’s recent monograph, Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South, have both shown that these impressments were more of a southern strength than McCurry acknowledges. But I think there was something more important going on with slave impressment that ultimately played a larger role in Confederate defeat, and that was the effect it had on making Northerners begin to see emancipation as a military necessity.

As early as First Manassas, the northern press pointed out that slave-built fortifications significantly hindered Union military operations.  During the Peninsula Campaign, these assertions grew louder and louder, and came from soldiers, newspaper editorialists, and most significantly, from the floor of Congress. In pushing for a Second Confiscation Act, politicians repeatedly pointed out that slave-built entrenchments were stalling McClellan’s drive on Richmond—proof that depriving the Confederacy of their slave laborers was becoming essential to winning the war.

Additionally, when the campaign ended in defeat after the Seven Day’s Battles, the argument was made that Lee’s army had been able to attack the Army of the Potomac with so much energy and aggressiveness because southern soldiers had been better rested than Yankee soldiers, who had been compelled to build their own fortifications while the Confederates relied on their slaves.

Battery at Yorktown, May 1862
Yorktown Battery, May 1862
George Townsend, a correspondent traveling with the Union military, referred to these fortifications as “monuments to Negro labor”

I found that in July 1862 these points were being made repeatedly by a broad spectrum of Northerners (not just radical Republicans and abolitionists), and this created a momentum for emancipation as a military necessity that could not be ignored by Congress or the president. Based on what I found in my own research, I feel that other historians have not emphasized this dynamic enough when discussing the factors that led to support for emancipation. In my mind it was absolutely critical.

BK: This is perhaps a good point to return to the interpretive angle of your work. In the developing debate over whether the northern war was one for ‘Union’ or ‘emancipation’, you place your own work fairly explicitly in the ‘war for the Union’ camp. In the introduction, for example, you point out the problems in pursuing a purely ‘bottom-up’ approach to the war—its tendency to downplay the importance of political and military leadership. But it strikes me that your own research—for a monograph that is first and foremost concerned with military history—stakes out a kind of elusive middle ground, and suggests the inadequacy of the ‘either/or’ proposition for capturing the dynamic quality of the War: it demonstrates a clear relationship between slave self-activity and the wider transformation of the war, for example. Do you want to clarify your own position on this?

GDB: It is interesting to me that you say this, because my intention was to place myself in the middle ground on the question of “Who freed the slaves?”—not so much the question of “Union or emancipation?” Of course the two overlap in many ways, and perhaps, as you suggest, my work has demonstrated how.

I do place myself in the “War for Union” camp. Lincoln and the Republican Party were definitely an anti-slavery group that was committed to destroying the institution in the long run. Yet they believed that this could only constitutionally be done by preventing the spread of it into the new territories and by concurrently cutting off all federal support for it and using the national government to encourage gradual, compensated emancipation (and possibly colonization). The fact that they promoted this anti-slavery agenda is what created the paranoia in the south that led to secession. Of course there is nothing controversial about these statements.

However, recently James Oakes has argued, in Freedom National, that the core of the party also believed that emancipation might be effected quicker if a war for the Union occurred, and if that happened they were more than ready to free the slaves as a “military necessity.” While some Radicals in the party embraced this idea, I don’t think that it has been proven that the core of the party embraced such radical measures even before the war started (my online review of Freedom National makes my reservations about the work fairly clear). In line with northern sentiment, the party was committed to fighting a war to stop secession, and nothing further. Of course many radicals immediately hoped and even predicted that the war would wind up freeing the slaves, but they were a pretty significant minority, not only within the country as a whole, but also within the Republican party. So what happened to change that? Why did so many come to believe that saving the Union required emancipation? This is where my book tries to make a contribution.

The war’s military contingencies caused the change. The fact that there was a war did not alone make it a “military necessity” to free the slaves, either legally or in the minds of most Northerners. Most optimistically believed that 22 million Northerners could defeat 9 million Southerners without having to call on the slaves. And in fact, most felt that emancipation would only hurt their cause because it might encourage more southern resistance as well as lose the Border States.  But as events unfolded, the radical argument that slaves must be freed in order to win the war gained credence. As previously noted, it became increasingly apparent that the South gained significant military advantages by tapping into their supply of slave laborers to build fortifications and entrenchments, and rumors even circulated that they were using slaves in combat roles. Additionally, the enslaved community provided military intelligence that significantly helped Union military operations and the case was made that such aid could be increased if more slaves were encouraged to abandon their masters.

But the argument that emancipation was a military necessity could not have been successfully proven had the war’s contingencies not strengthened the point. If McClellan had been a more effective commander, it is possible that Richmond would have fallen in the spring of 1862. Combined with Union military successes elsewhere, the capture of the Confederate capital at that time would have made a pretty convincing case that freeing the slaves was NOT a military necessity. How could it be necessary, legally or otherwise, if the war was clearly being won without resorting to emancipation?

I firmly believe that had military events shown that emancipation was not necessary to preserve the Union, and the war then successfully won, slavery would have survived the conflict essentially intact. Having preserved the Union, Lincoln and his anti-slavery party would then simply have turned to combating the institution in the long term with the tactics that they had campaigned and been elected on—stopping its spread, cutting support, encouraging gradual and compensated emancipation, etc.

Thus the failure of the Peninsula Campaign was pivotal in showing Northerners that emancipation was required in order to win the war. It is at that point that preservation of the Union and slave emancipation became wedded to one another (and let’s not forget that significant resistance to this connection continued for the duration). This melding of Union and emancipation absolutely required the war’s military events to have unfolded in the way that they did. And those events played out the way that they did because of the actions of military and political leaders, as well as the actions of the slaves themselves.

Eastman Johnson, A Ride for Liberty: The Fugitive Slaves March 1862
Artist Eastman Johnson recorded that his painting, A Ride for Liberty: The Fugitive Slaves (March 1862) was directly inspired by the dramatic events he saw unfolding in the Virginia in 1862

BK: This is I suppose the central contribution of your study: as you suggest, it was the North’s inability to make significant breakthroughs on the battlefield—McClellan’s failure to inflict a defeat on numerically inferior Confederate forces—that compelled a rethinking both among the Union rank-and-file and on up the chain of military and political command. At the same time Lincoln’s attempt to persuade the Border States of the merits of voluntary emancipation is reaching the end of the road. In this context the argument about emancipation as a “military necessity” becomes difficult to counter. Here I wonder if we can move onto more speculative ground: was there a context that might have allowed Lincoln and the Republicans to move from ‘mere’ pragmatism to principle, to consolidate a body of northern opinion that might uphold black equality after military necessity had ceased to be an issue—that is, after the war was ended?

GDB: This is an interesting question, and I have been pondering an aspect of it for my next project. I’ve argued that the actions of African Americans during the war played a significant role in convincing Northerners that emancipation was a necessity, but of course freedom and equality are two different things. Did black military involvement in the war also help convince a broad spectrum of Northerners that Africans Americans were full human beings that deserved equal rights? We know that recruiters and promoters of the USCT’s insisted that military service was a path to gaining citizenship rights. We also know that near the end of his life, Lincoln himself argued that black soldiers and “the intelligent” deserved consideration for certain rights, specifically suffrage. And as Barbara Gannon has shown in her monograph, The Won Cause, the post-war Grand Army of the Republic contained significant numbers of white veterans who were sympathetic to the rights of black veterans.

Despite all of this, as your question indicates, radical Congressional Reconstruction ultimately failed. Why? We could go with David Blight’s explanation, that reconciliation between North and South was achieved only through the North’s willingness to absorb some of the tenets of the Lost Cause, effectively obliterating the memory of black services in the war and shunting slavery and emancipation far into the background of the war’s causes and outcomes. But while there is undeniable truth to many aspects of this influential thesis, I believe that Caroline Janney’s new work, Remembering the Civil War, has blasted considerable holes into it. Union veterans were not willing to simply forget what their efforts in the war had done for African Americans, nor were they always willing to forget what blacks had done to help win the war.

So could Reconstruction have turned out differently? I do believe that Lincoln’s shift at the end of his life, the sentiments of many (though hardly all, and very far from most) white Union veterans, as well as the goals of the radical Republicans, could have all gelled nicely to create a more long lasting commitment to black citizenship rights. But, at the risk of sounding too much like I embrace the “Great Men” approach to history, I believe the essential ingredient had to be Lincoln.

Throughout the war, we know that he proved himself a master at keeping a leash on the radicals, holding back their impulses until public opinion could catch up with their goals. Had he survived the war, he would have been at the height of his powers to influence and shape the course of political events. That is not to say that there would not have been a fight between him and the radical Congress, and there is no way for us to say with absolute certainty that he would have won that fight, slowing down the push for black rights until public opinion could catch up. Who knows? The fight might have ruined his presidency, but we can all agree that he stood a better chance in that fight than his successor. Andrew Johnson was obviously little qualified to slow the impulses of the radicals, and in fact, his defiant actions only unleashed their revolutionary impulses. These unrestrained efforts were met with the massive and violent southern resistance that played such a significant role (though hardly the only one) in causing Northerners to want to move on to other national issues.

But to answer your question most directly, I believe that had Lincoln lived, his political clout and leadership, reinforced by sentiment among that minority of white veterans that supported the rights of their black comrades, could have created a more enduring northern support for black citizenship rights. To support this cause, my sense is that both Lincoln and those veterans would have pointed to the significant and effectual role that African American had played in the war that had saved the Union. With both Lincoln and these veterans behind this argument, I believe it would likely have played much better with the public than the more radical one based on moral principle (just as it had done during the war), at least initially. In my mind, Lincoln’s last speech—when he suggested that black veterans be given the right to vote—was his opening salvo for making just such a case. It was perhaps the first small step in a gradual process. Southern white resistance would have remained, of course, but Lincoln’s slower pace, his ability to reign in the radicals, and his emphasis on the role that African Americans had played in the war, might possibly have won the day in the long term.

New Challenges, New Opportunities for Teaching the Civil War & Emancipation

Negro Troops Receive Instructions in the Field
Negro Troops Receive Instructions in the Field
Allen Stringfellow (1963)
DuSable Museum of African American History

On the 1st of February the After Slavery Project, together with the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program hosted a day-long teachers’ workshop on “Teaching the New History of Emancipation” at the College of Charleston. The program included a series of panels on the relationship between slavery and the war, on new online resources for teaching emancipation, and on teaching outside the traditional classroom.  The aim of the workshop was to lay the foundations for ongoing collaboration between college- and university-based research historians and a diverse constituency of high school teachers and curriculum experts, archivists and public historians, site interpreters and National Park Service personnel. Lincoln Prize winning historian Eric Foner gave a keynote based on his recent The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, which we will post in the coming days, and the generous support of the Humanities Council South Carolina (HCSC) meant that the organizers were able to partially fund almost 6000 miles of travel for teachers from across the Carolinas and as far north as Virginia.

IMAG1238
Panel on ‘The Carolinas in the Vortex of War’
Janette Greenwood (Clark University), LuAnn Jones (US National Park Service), Larry Watson (SC State University), Brian Kelly (Queen’s University Belfast), Bernard E. Powers, Jr. (College of Charleston)

One of the key themes in the first full session, on “The Carolinas in the Vortex of War,” was the varied experience of emancipation across the wartime and post-Civil War South. LuAnn Jones of the National Park Service developed some of the insights present in David Cecelski’s work on coastal North Carolina, where the slaves’ close familiarity with the rivers and coastal inlets transformed them into escape routes akin to the much better-known underground railroad–‘waterways to freedom’. Janette Thomas Greenwood (see our interview with her here) followed with a talk on “Union Occupation and the Disintegration of Slavery,” based on her important work on eastern North Carolina in First Fruits of Freedom.  Bernard E. Powers, Jr., Chair of the African American Studies Program at the College of Charleston and the author of an important study of emancipation and its aftermath in Charleston, spoke about the urban experience of emancipation, and Brian Kelly showed how the chaos and disruptions brought on by the war helped to spread disaffection among the enslaved in “Slave Refugeeing and Disaffection in the Upcountry.”

McGill and Randle
Joseph McGill (Slave Dwelling Project) and Lisa Randle (Magnolia Plantation)

The second session emphasized the value of non-textual resources for teaching emancipation. Amy Kirschke, a professor of Art History at UNC Wilmington, led with a presentation on “Visualizing Emancipation through Art.”  Joseph McGill, whose Slave Dwelling Project has expanded in recent years across the South and beyond, shared his experiences in visiting slave cabins alongside students of all ages, and spoke about the importance of these sites for engaging young learners. Lisa Randle directs education and outreach at Magnolia Plantation: she told a captivating story about the layers of history uncovered in tracing the history of former plantations, and about the uphill struggle that freedpeople’s descendants endured in trying to hold on to land acquired after emancipation. A third panel introduced a range of more traditional classroom materials for teaching emancipation: Kerry Taylor of The Citadel College spoke about the enduring value of the WPA Slave Narratives for oral histories of slavery and its disintegration, but also highlighted some of their problems, noting especially  the segregated context in which the original interviews were carried out and the reluctance of black Southerners to speak freely. Dwana Waugh introduced some of the digital resources made available from the Avery Research Center in recent years, and John White from the Lowcountry Digital Library spoke about the After Slavery Project and some of the other exciting developments at LDL. The highlight of the afternoon was Eric Foner’s keynote on “Lincoln and Emancipation,” introduced by Professor Powers, and which we will post on this blog in the coming days.

Foner and Harell-Roye
Historian Eric Foner and Shelia Harrell-Roye
of the Avery Research Center

The Charleston workshop was a good start, but its real aim was to jump start an ongoing collaboration between research historians and high school educators, and in the weeks since we have been working to build on those relationships through a series of local meetings with high school teachers in North and South Carolina. At present we are working to put together a series of lesson plans that align with the K-12 state history standards, and will be digging out some of the most compelling documents in our archives to produce the very best, high-quality online teaching resources available in either state on slave emancipation and its aftermath. We’re excited about the possibilities, and hope that any of our readers who are engaged in teaching or teaching administration will stay tuned and, if possible, get involved in this important work as it proceeds.

Thomas C. Holt, “Slave and Citizen: Rethinking Emancipation in the 21st Century”

As promised, a link to Thomas C. Holt’s Wiles Symposium keynote, presented at the Linen Hall Library in Belfast. Holt is James Westfall Thompson Professor of American and African American History at the University of Chicago, and the author and co-author of a number of seminal studies of slave emancipation in the US and the wider Atlantic World.  His talk here forms the basis of the lead chapter in a collection forthcoming from the University Press of Florida, After Slavery: Race, Labor and Citizenship in the Reconstruction South.