We knowed freedom was on us, but we didn’t know what was to come with it. We thought we was going to get rich like the white folks. We thought we was going to be richer than the white folks, ‘cause
There are two great legal milestones in the destruction of slavery in the United States—the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, and the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, passed by Congress and ratified by the states in 1865.
December 31, 1862 fell on a Wednesda, and that night members of Savannah’s First African Baptist Church held their traditional New Year’s Eve “watch meeting.” Each year members of the congregation gathered on this night to welcome the new year and to ask for God’s blessing on the city’s African-American community. Such “watch meetings” or “watch night” services were held all over the country, linking African Americans in Savannah with communities in Richmond, New York, Boston and elsewhere. After a year and a half of a bloody civil war, the community in Savannah consisted of about 10,000 enslaved men and women, 1,000 free people of color, and several hundred enslaved workers brought from all over the state of Georgia to dig trenches and otherwise toil at the direction of Confederate military authorities.
While 2013 marks the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, this year also marks the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, the most famous event of the Civil Rights Movement, made so by the continual remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. In the five decades since the March, many people have forgotten or fail to realize the tremendous meaning that the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation bore for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
“No founding father wrote more eloquently on behalf of liberty and human rights than Thomas Jefferson, and none has a more troubling record when it comes to the “peculiar institution” of slavery. At present, the popular understanding of Jefferson’s shilly-shallying on this issue doesn’t extend much deeper than knowing smirks about Sally Hemings and the (unacknowledged) children Jefferson fathered with her. We tend to assume that the dirtiest secrets of the past have to do with sex. But, as Henry Wiencek explains in his new book, “Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves,” the real filth is in the ledger books.”
“The Cause of Her Grief” is an article by Wendy Anne Warren that was published in the March 2007 issue of The Journal of American History. There are many reasons to like this article but more than anything else Warren’s honesty in trying to tell this story is poignant and powerful. Much of the article consists of questions. Warren is open about the gaps in our knowledge when it comes to topics like this. At the end she says, “At some point every historian decides how to frame her argument: I deliberately chose a method that makes visible gaps in my evidence.”
If Digital History is “using new technologies to enhance research and teaching,” as the excellent website from the University of Houston puts it, then African American history is being well-served digitally. In honor of African American History month, I survey here one enormous and useful website that gives us all access to a very wide variety of materials.
In March 1865, the U. S. Congress created the Freedmen’s Bureau for Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands to ease the transition between slavery and freedom for 3.5 million newly liberated slaves. The bureau had three main functions—to distribute rations to Southerners who had been loyal to the Union during the Civil War, to establish public schools for black children and adults, and to oversee labor contracts between landowners and black workers.
As we remember the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, we should also not forget that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of another tragic episode: this country’s Civil War that left more than 600,000 dead in its wake.
A torrent of controversy has in fact arisen alongside the Civil War’s sesquicentennial, the most prevalent being debates over the war’s causation.
The Book of Negroes is an extraordinary historical resource, a meticulous list drawn up by the British authorities between May and November 1783, in which they recorded the personal details of some 3,000 African Americans evacuated from New York.