Raising Freedom's Child: Black Children and Visions of the Future after Slavery

Raising Freedom's Child: Black Children and Visions of the Future after Slavery

Raising Freedom's Child: Black Children and Visions of the Future after Slavery

Raising Freedom's Child: Black Children and Visions of the Future after Slavery

Synopsis

'Mitchell's sophisticated, nuanced reading of a wealth of previously untapped documents and period photographs casts a dazzling fresh light on the way that abolitionists, educators, missionaries, planters, politicians, and free children of color envisioned the status of African Americans after emancipation.' -Steven Mintz, University of Houston ?Raising Freedom's Child demonstrates the importance of childhood studies for understanding the nation's political, economic, and social history. In this carefully researched book, Mitchell keeps the black child at the center of the struggle to define freedom in the aftermath of Civil War and emancipation.' -Marie Jenkins Schwartz, University of Rhode Island The end of slavery in the United States inspired conflicting visions of the future for all Americans in the nineteenth century, black and white, slave and free. The black child became a figure upon which people projected their hopes and fears about slavery's abolition. As a member of the first generation of African Americans to grow up in freedom, the black child-freedom's child-connoted a future where African Americans might enjoy the same privileges as whites: landownership, equality, autonomy. Yet this image was a nightmare for most white southerners. Even many northerners expressed doubts about the consequences of abolition for the nation and its identity as a ?white? republic. From the 1850s and the Civil War to emancipation and the official end of Reconstruction in 1877, Raising Freedom's Child examines slave emancipation and opposition to it as a far-reaching, national event with profound social, political, and cultural consequences. Mary Niall Mitchell analyzes a dizzying array of representations of the black child-letters, photographs, newspaper columns, court cases, and more-to illustrate how Americans contested and defended slavery, tracing sharp debates over black children's education, labor, racial classification, and citizenship. Only with the triumph of segregation in public schools in 1877 did the black child lose its public role in the national struggle over civil rights, a role it would not play again until the 1950s.

Excerpt

The boy and girl looked toward the camera. They were just old enough to understand the task assigned them: to stand very still, with arms linked, and direct their gaze to the contraption in front of them. Isaac was eight and Rosa, six. How two former slave children from Louisiana ended up in a Broadway photographer's studio in 1863 requires some explanation. For now, it is enough to know that both children had been the property of slaveholders in New Orleans not long before their image was printed on cartes-de-visite (a new format for photography in the mid-nineteenth century, allowing for more than one copy, on individual cards, made cheaply) and offered for sale. the sale of their portrait would fund newly established schools for former slaves in southern Louisiana, a region already occupied by the Union army. in fact, the Civil War still had its hold on the nation, with death tolls and discontent on the rise. the portrait of Isaac and Rosa, at once charming and provocative, said much about the uncertainties that hung in the air that year.

They would have made an uncommon pair, the black-skinned boy and the white-skinned girl. Although there were many racial taboos in nineteenth-century America, a white girl on the arm of a black boy was surely one of the most scandalous. That Rosa was a “colored” girl who only looked white—that she toyed with a person's ability to see blackness at all—only made the pair of them more intriguing. Isaac wore a suit with tie and collar, his cap in hand, and Rosa a dress and cape, full petticoats, and a fancy hat. Despite their young ages, they stood posed like a gentleman and lady making an entrance. But that was much the point of the photograph: to anticipate the adults they would become. the portrait “Isaac and Rosa, Emancipated Slave Children from the Free Schools of Louisiana,” was, above all, a picture about the future. Or, rather, about the many futures that seemed possible in 1863.

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