Who Are the Real Americans? African American Civil War Memory and Narratives of Loyalty

Friday, January 4, 2019: 1:30 PM
Boulevard A (Hilton Chicago)
Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
In her essay, “Liberty Dearly Bought: The Making of Civil War Memory in African American Communities in the South” Thavolia Glymph calls for a new examination of Civil War memory that does not rely on the “Du Boisian” or “Douglassian” perspectives. Instead, she argues, we should examine the actions of black laborers in the South whose memory work has been neglected in scholarship on Civil War memory. This paper responds to Glymph’s call by examining the memory work of recently emancipated African Americans in the South as they navigated the promising, but turbulent early years of freedom. In the last months of the Civil War, victory marches and parades included emancipated African Americans who were young, old, female, and male. They held mock funerals for the “death” of slavery, carried proud banners signifying their freedom, and sang many songs including “John Brown’s body.” These earliest months of freedom foretold African Americans’ long fight over the legacy and memory of the Civil War. Emancipation was inextricably tied to the legacy and memory of the Civil War. In this paper, I use the political and social landscape of Reconstruction to argue that recently freed African Americans were central to creating the earliest parts of Civil War memory. African American narratives about the war arrived alongside African American political and economic advancement after Emancipation. Just as Redemption was the culmination of backlash to these new political and economic rights, the Lost Cause was a backlash to African American Civil War memory work. Recently emancipated African Americans’ fashioning of Civil War memory is essential for understanding the commemorative landscape of the South in the 21st century. As this paper demonstrates, the battle over Civil War memory has been waged by African Americans for over 150 years.
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