Hahn on “What Lincoln Meant to the Slaves”

One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, Americans went to war with themselves. Disunion revisits and reconsiders America’s most perilous period — using contemporary accounts, diaries, images and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded. Join Disunion on Facebook »

A wood engraving of “contraband” slaves escaping to Fort Monroe, Va. (Library of Congress)

Hahn, Steven. “What Lincoln Meant to the Slaves.” New York Times. Disunion, February 12, 2011. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/12/what-lincoln-meant-to-the-slaves/.

Excerpt

Scholars and the interested public have long debated Lincoln’s views on slavery and how they influenced his policies as president. How committed was he to abolition? What was he prepared to do? Could he imagine a world in which white and black people lived together in peace and freedom? For many slaves, at least at first, the answer was clear: Lincoln’s election meant emancipation.

On one Virginia plantation, a group of slaves celebrated Lincoln’s inauguration by proclaiming their freedom and marching off their owner’s estate. In Alabama, some slaves had come to believe that “Lincoln is soon going to free them all,” and had begun “making preparations to aid him when he makes his appearance,” according to local whites. A runaway slave in Louisiana told his captors in late May 1861 that “the North was fighting for the Negroes now and that he was as free as his master.” Shortly thereafter, a nearby planter conceded that “the Negroes have gotten a confused idea of Lincoln’s Congress meeting and of the war; they think it is all to help them and they expected for ‘something to turn up….’”

Read the rest here.

ESSAY: Gates and Ellis on Harriet Wilson, 19th Century Novelist and Spiritualist

Quite a late posting.  Many apologies on the hiatus.  ~JMJOHNSO

For more on Wilson as an entrepreneur see Gabrielle Foreman and Katherine Flynn’s 2009 Boston Globe piece here.

Gates, Henry Louis, and R. J. Ellis. “Harriet Wilson’s Sunday School.” TheRoot.com, January 10, 2011, sec. Views. http://www.theroot.com/views/harriet-wilson-s-sunday-school.

Excerpt:

As Gabrielle Foreman and Kathy Flynn have shown, between 1857 and 1861 Wilson became an enterprising producer and marketer of “Mrs. H.E. Wilson’s Hair Dressing,” a hair “regenerator,” which claimed to restore graying hair to its original color and was sold in smart green glass bottles that were advertised widely in newspapers throughout New England, New York and New Jersey, including theNew York Times.

But far more important than this curious and brief interlude in her long career, Wilson (who often called herself “Hattie”) also became a well-known and somewhat controversial “spirit guide” in Boston’s popular Spiritualist movement, as Foreman detected. According to our research, this new chapter in Wilson’s career began as early as 1867, just after the end of the Civil War.

Even here, Wilson’s entrepreneurial skills manifested themselves: We have discovered that, in addition to playing a leading role in fostering amateur dramatics among the Spiritualists, she founded her own school. And this venture would prove to be perhaps her most controversial project of all.

Early in 1883, Wilson announced the opening of a new Sunday school for the children of “the liberal minded” in the “Ladies Aid Parlors” in Boston. Though the very first black woman to teach in a white public school in that city, Elizabeth Smith, had begun teaching just a decade earlier, in 1872 a black woman teaching white children in a private school such as Wilson’s was still quite extraordinary, to say the least.

Spiritualists believed that certain individuals — “mediums” — possessed the power to communicate with those who had passed away but who still, in spirit form, moved among the living, overlooking their lives, and were able to be called upon to provide guidance by way of verbal communication through the medium, or even by assuming visible material forms. These communications could be dramatic and even disconcerting (the mediums, of course, maintained that they could not control the free spirits), so generally speaking, Spiritualists did not go into trances in their children’s lyceums.

But Wilson decided that this was an unnecessary precaution. To signify the difference between her school and others, she dropped the word “lyceum” (as Spiritualist schools were generally known) and named hers the “First Spiritual Progressive School.” And true to her claim, Wilson’s school was avowedly “progressive” and featured some quite radical ideas.

Read the rest @ TheRoot.com

Blight: What gives the Confederacy its staying power?

In April, when Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell issued a proclamation reviving Confederate History Month in the commonwealth, he reminded us once again of the Confederacy’s staying power. Wittingly or not, McDonnell demonstrated that historical “memory disputes” are always about the present, as he spoke in the tradition of a long line of Southern leaders beginning with the founders of the Confederacy itself.

Immediately, Civil War causation and slavery became the lightning-rod issues as McDonnell’s defense of his proclamation flashed all over American media.

“There were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states,” he said. “Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.”

It involved slavery. In that throw-away phrase, the governor spoke volumes, even if he didn’t know it. To put it simply, yes, slavery was the cause of the Civil War.

via What gives the Confederacy its staying power? – KansasCity.com.

Mitchell: Portrait or Postcard? The Controversy over a “Rare” Photograph of Slave Children

For those of us who work with historical photographs (particularly images from the nineteenth century, when the medium was still in its infancy) there are few things more thrilling than stumbling on an image we didn’t know existed. But finding and then identifying historical photographs with any certainty, particularly the subjects in them, is tricky business. Retrieving the story behind the image—who took it, of whom, and why—can often be near impossible.

So I was surprised last week to see an AP story about a “rare” photograph of slave children. The accompanying image—purportedly of two boys, either enslaved or just recently freed, from North Carolina taken in the 1860s dressed in ragged clothes, seated on a wooden barrel, posed for the camera—intrigued me for several reasons. For one, my own reading of the image was quite different from what was described in the wire article and subsequent reports (recent sleuthing by collectors supports my suspicions, as I’ll explain). Second, the eagerness to accept the authenticity of this image as a reflection of daily life in the South in this era is based on, at best, a shallow reading of the history of black children in the photography of this period. Finally, the shock the image of “slave children” seemed to give reporters and readers, and even some experts, makes it clear that the picture of antebellum slavery most people hold in their heads is an outdated one. If they imagine Southern plantations were sustained largely by the sweat and blood by enslaved adults, the work of recent historians has brought another view to light, one in which young people made up the majority of the enslaved…

Read the rest at the History News Network: Portrait or Postcard? The Controversy over a “Rare” Photograph of Slave Children.

Auslander on Slavery and the University

Abstract:  Diverse college and university campuses with origins before Emancipation embody a potent paradox. Architecturally and spatially, they present tangible models of idealized utopian spaces, earthly apparitions of the promise of Heaven. Yet these utopian imagined communities rest, at times uneasily, upon under-acknowledged histories of violent coercion, in the form of slavery and slave trades. This essay explores slippages and fissures in the landscape of memory on the university campus and its environs, with particular attention to the town of Oxford, Georgia, the birthplace of Emory University. Memorial spaces associated with institutions of higher learning are sites of potent ideological contestation. At one level, college-related cemeteries may present seemingly coherent narratives of regularized order within an established racial hierarchy. Yet such cemeteries and related memorial practices may also trigger critical modes of consciousness, catalyzing poignant challenges to the established order of things.

Read the rest at Southern Spaces.