Young People’s Experiences of Reconstruction and the Legacies of the Civil War

Friday, January 5, 2018: 11:10 AM
Columbia 5 (Washington Hilton)
Ben Davidson, New York University
This paper explores how Civil War experiences were transformed into politically salient memories during Reconstruction by those who had been children during the war. The first generation of black and white children to grow up after the end of slavery used memories of the conflict to shape ideas of freedom in particular. Conceptions of freedom and memories of the war were closely tied to questions of regional identity as well, and I attend to the ways in which mobility within regions, or a lack thereof, could both harden and restructure beliefs about what freedom meant and how the war should be remembered. My paper traces the experiences of freedwomen and men who attended school for the first time during Reconstruction, alongside those of a range of black and white northerners and southerners who remained at home or moved as far away as California, Japan, and France. I demonstrate how we must consider conflicts among black and white southerners over ideas of freedom as influenced not simply by memories in general, but specifically by memories of formative, and traumatic, childhoods. In addition to reshaping the stories we tell about the Reconstruction era, examining the memories and experiences of young people in the postwar period ultimately helps us to better understand the adult actors at the heart of violent late-nineteenth-century conflicts over the citizenship rights of African Americans.
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