Emancipation's Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest

Emancipation's Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest

Emancipation's Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest

Emancipation's Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest

Synopsis

Most studies of emancipation's consequences have focused on the South. Moving the discussion to the North, Leslie Schwalm enriches our understanding of the national impact of the transition from slavery to freedom. Emancipation's Diaspora follows the lives and experiences of thousands of men and women who liberated themselves from slavery, made their way to overwhelmingly white communities in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and worked to live in dignity as free women and men and as citizens.

Schwalm explores the hotly contested politics of black enfranchisement as well as collisions over segregation, civil rights, and the more informal politics of race- including how slavery and emancipation would be remembered and commemorated. She examines how gender shaped the politics of race, and how gender relations were contested and negotiated within the black community. Based on extensive archival research, Emancipation's Diaspora shows how in churches and schools, in voting booths and Masonic temples, in bustling cities and rural crossroads, black and white Midwesterners- women and men- shaped the local and national consequences of emancipation.

Excerpt

For all its unintended consequences and unresolved implications, wartime emancipation was a singularly transformative event in American history. in its aftermath, four million people gained their freedom and a political economy based on chattel slavery was destroyed. Generations of scholarship have richly illuminated these consequences, particularly in the South. But emancipation’s immediate and postwar repercussions extended well beyond the South, forcing a renegotiation of the “place” of African Americans in the North—both geographically and in the imagined body politic. Northern whites, infamously unwilling to “tolerate negroes, except as slaves,” according to Harper’s Weekly in 1862, understood that southern emancipation not only unloosed the bonds of slavery from African Americans, but had also unloosed the meaning of race in American society. By the time of the Civil War, northern whites had long since erased their region’s own history of slavery and, in the process of stripping “free” blacks of their rights and opportunities, attributed the causes of racial disparities in the North to “race,” rather than legally defined inequities. Southern emancipation mattered, even in the North, because slavery had long anchored American ideas about race to how power, privilege, and citizenship were experienced and perceived. the persistence of southern slavery had allowed white Americans to project their conceptions of the “place” of people of African descent to the slave South. Emancipation cut loose that anchor and, in so doing, changed the history of race throughout the nation. This book examines how one northern region contended with the repercussions of emancipation.

The phrase “emancipation’s diaspora” refers to two key developments that forced the northern politics of race and emancipation into the open. One involved the wartime waves of migration by former slaves out of the South into northern and western communities, and the other concerned the public and private debates that wartime emancipation instigated in the North, as nonslaveholding Americans pondered their expectations and fears about the implications of slavery’s destruction for the nation as a whole. the wartime diaspora of former slaves out of the South was one of several uprootings and dispersals that have characterized the experience of enslaved African and African-descended populations in North America, from the seventeenth century through the Great Migration that began during World War I. the first of . . .

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