Families & Freedom -Op/084

Ira Berlin, Author, Leslie S. Rowland, Editor New Press $25 (0p) ISBN 978-1-56584-026-3
Berlin and Rowland are, respectively, the former and present directors of the Freedmen and Southern Society Project at the University of Maryland. In this sturdy sequel to Free at Last, they present documents, primarily letters written by African Americans, that illustrate the stark brutalities of slavery in the 1860s. In the border states of Missouri, Maryland and Kentucky, where slavery remained legal despite the Emancipation Proclamation, black men who had joined the Union army were often arrested by civil authorities when they went home to help their families. When blacks entered army camps, often their families occupied shanty towns nearby. Many soldiers complained to their white commanders about their families' wretched living conditions; some even wrote to President Lincoln. Letters from blacks in the North show that they endured the same problems as whites--only magnified because free blacks in the North toiled on the fringes of the economy. There's also material on the immediate postwar situation of black families. Black units remained in service as occupation troops and on the Mexican border while their loved ones at home suffered discrimination and vengeance from former slave owners. Letters describing the sudden ability of blacks to form legal marriages in the South underscore the inhuman conditions of slavery, as do the missives of those futilely searching for kin sold off years earlier. With each letter preceded by a brief explanatory note, this valuable collection of primary documents contributes to our understanding of 19th-century black social history; it also can serve as an excellent college text. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
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