Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery

Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer. Temple Univ., $35 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4399-0985-0
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“I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance” was the caption on photographer Sojourner Truth’s visiting card. In this cascade of nearly 150 photographs reaching from the mid-19th to the early 20th century, Willis (a professor of photography at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts) and Krauthamer (a UMass-Amherst historian) bring their special expertise to a stunning range of images that “allow us to contemplate not only the history of slavery and emancipation but also our continued ties to that history and its legacies.” The result is a gem: haunting, touching, troubling, inspiring, and informative. The subjects are ordinary people, unsung in anonymity. The escaped slave Dolly pictured on a reward notice, a group gathered for a 1916 slave reunion, Emancipation Day celebrations, fugitives fording a river, chimney sweeps, family groups, and penal slavery crews are all part of this rich, diverse cornucopia. Particularly noteworthy is the attention given to women, especially their role in the Civil War. Unfortunately, the photographs are not keyed to the text, making a nuisance of linking them to the author’s clarifications. Though it does not purport to be a photographic history of African-Americans, one will certainly see the course of history leading to emancipation. 148 b&w illus. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/22/2012
Release date: 12/01/2012
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-1-4399-0986-7
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