Defining Moments: African American Commemoration and Political Culture in the South, 1863-1913

Defining Moments: African American Commemoration and Political Culture in the South, 1863-1913

Defining Moments: African American Commemoration and Political Culture in the South, 1863-1913

Defining Moments: African American Commemoration and Political Culture in the South, 1863-1913

Synopsis

The historical memory of the Civil War and Reconstruction has earned increasing attention from scholars. Only recently, however, have historians begun to explore African American efforts to interpret those events. With Defining Moments, Kathleen Clark shines new light on African American commemorative traditions in the South, where events such as Emancipation Day and Fourth of July ceremonies served as opportunities for African Americans to assert their own understandings of slavery, the Civil War, and Emancipation--efforts that were vital to the struggles to define, assert, and defend African American freedom and citizenship.

Focusing on urban celebrations that drew crowds from surrounding rural areas, Clark finds that commemorations served as critical forums for African Americans to define themselves collectively. As they struggled to assert their freedom and citizenship, African Americans wrestled with issues such as the content and meaning of black history, class-inflected ideas of respectability and progress, and gendered notions of citizenship. Clark's examination of the people and events that shaped complex struggles over public self-representation in African American communities brings new understanding of southern black political culture in the decades following Emancipation and provides a more complete picture of historical memory in the South.

Excerpt

Retrospect the past and view the
present. TO-DAY you crowd the streets
of our town, with imposing proces
sions, which speak in language that
cannot be misunderstood.
from address of Mrs. Thomas Pauley,
Georgetown, S.C., 1870

The incomparable thrill of the Emancipation Day celebration never left Albert Brooks. in a 1938 interview with a worker for the Works Progress Administration, Brooks vividly recalled a ceremony he had attended as a young child shortly after the end of the Civil War. On the appointed day, African Americans journeyed from the surrounding countryside to march in a massive parade that quickly overflowed the streets of the town where Brooks lived with his family. Caught up in the excitement, white missionaries rushed to join the procession. One teacher was so intoxicated with joy that she “stood on the church steps and just shouted unashamed before all the people that were present.” in Brooks's memory, the wind blew strong as his stepfather climbed to the top of the church, shouldering a massive American flag. Brooks described the scene as the Stars and Stripes came to life, snapping and pulling in the fierce wind; his stepfather struggled to hold his ground, then triumphantly raised the flag overhead. Look-

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