Steamship with African American Children, Jacksonville, Florida, Late 19th Century

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Steamship with African American children
Collection: Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, Cornell University Library, Digital Collections
Creator: O. Pierre Havens
Date: Late-19th century
Description: Lucas Line steamship, with African American children on the riverbank in foreground. Well-dressed white people sit high up on the ship.
Site: Jacksonville, Duval, Florida, United States

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Men pulling carts, c. 1898, Palm Beach, Florida

Men Pulling Carts Palm Beach Florida copy
Men pulling carts, circa 1898, Palm Beach, Florida
Description: African American men pull carts with people in them.
Source: Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, Cornell University

Update to the List of Monuments to United States Colored Troops: Memorial to the Forgotten Soldiers, Key West, Florida

One of the most popular entries on this blog is the list of monuments to African American soldiers who served in the Civil War. FYI, I have made an update to that entry. The list now includes:

Memorial to the Forgotten Soldiers
Key West, Florida

Monument Key West Civil War Black Soldier copyCivil War historical re-enactor David Flemming, right, stands by a bronze sculpture honoring black soldiers who served in Key West, FL. The dedication ceremony took pace on February 16, 2016.
Source: Rob O’Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau via AP via The Washington Post

This monument, in Key West’s Bayview Park, commemorates African American troops who served in this southern-most outpost of the United States during the Civil War. Key West remained in Union hands throughout the Civil War and was headquarters for the Navy Gulf Blockading Squadron.

This article from CBS 4 Miami notes:

According to historians, Col. James Montgomery of Kansas came to Key West in February 1863 to recruit after being authorized to raise a regiment of troops consisting entirely of free blacks and former refugee slaves.

Called “The Forgotten Soldier” and standing in Key West’s Bayview Park, the large-scale bronze sculpture depicts a uniformed soldier holding a rifle, with one arm upraised. Its unveiling and dedication marked the 153rd anniversary of the date in 1863 when more than 120 African-American soldiers from Key West were instructed to report for duty.

A Civil War reenactor gave a “roll call” of the recently rediscovered names of the African-Americans from Key West, who served in the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry. Attendees placed yellow carnations at the base of the sculpture as the soldiers’ names were read.

“They were never recognized before — the fact that they came from a city that was in the far south but yet a Union outpost, and that they joined the Union army,” said Lopez.

“The Forgotten Soldier” sculpture was commissioned and donated by the late Edward Knight, a Key West businessman who did much in the way of historic preservation. There are several other veterans’ memorials in Key West, including one to Confederate soldiers and sailors.

A video of the February 16, 2016  dedication ceremony is here. 

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If anyone knows of monuments to Civil War era black soldiers or sailors which I have not identified, please respond to this post, and I will update the list as time allows. I appreciate those of you who have helped me make what I believe is the definitive list of monuments to these men.

William Wells Brown gets his name


Image of author/historian/social activist William Wells Brown from his book, Three Years in Europe: Places I Have Seen and People I Have Met.
SOURCE: Wikipedia

William Wells Brown, as noted in Wikipedia, “was a prominent African-American abolitionist lecturer, novelist, playwright, and historian in the United States. Born into slavery in Kentucky, he escaped to Ohio in 1834 at the age of 20. He settled in Boston, Massachusetts, where he worked for abolitionist causes and became a prolific writer. While working for abolition, Brown also supported causes including: temperance, women’s suffrage, pacifism, prison reform, and an anti-tobacco movement. His novel Clotel (1853), considered the first novel written by an African American, was published in London, England, where he resided at the time; it was later published in the United States.”

Brown wrote many books, including the autobiographical Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave. Written By Himself. The website DocSouth summarizes the book here, saying in part:

Embarking on a career as a lecturing agent for the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society in 1843, Brown eventually moved to Boston in 1847, where he began his impressive literary career. In that same year, he wrote and published his autobiography, the Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave. Written by Himself. With its four American and five British editions appearing before 1850, Brown’s Narrative, second in popularity only to Frederick Douglass’s 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, brought him international celebrity.

As William Wells Brown’s first published work and his most widely read autobiography, the 1847 Narrative occupies an important place within not only his oeuvre but also the broader African American literary tradition.

In Narrative, Wells says that after he escaped from bondage in Kentucky, he took the route to freedom through Ohio. Among his many concerns as a freeman, interestingly enough, was his name. As a boy, he had been ordered to change his name, from William to Sandford; he found this “one of the most cruel acts that could be committed upon my rights.”

But as a free man, he could reclaim his name, which he did; this is from Narrative:

My escape to a land of freedom now appeared certain, and the prospects of the future occupied a great part of my thoughts. What should be my occupation, was a subject of much anxiety to me; and the next thing what should be my name? I have before stated that my old master, Dr. Young, had no children of his own, but had with him a nephew, the son of his brother, Benjamin Young. When this boy was brought to Doctor Young, his name being William, the same as mine, my mother was ordered to change mine to something else.

This, at the time, I thought to be one of the most cruel acts that could be committed upon my rights; and I received several very severe whippings for telling people that my name was William, after orders were given to change it. Though young, I was old enough to place a high appreciation upon my name. It was decided, however, to call me “Sandford,” and this name I was known by, not only upon my master’s plantation, but up to the time that I made my escape. I was sold under the name of Sandford.

But as soon as the subject came to my mind, I resolved on adopting my old name of William, and let Sandford go by the board, for I always hated it. Not because there was anything peculiar in the name; but because it had been forced upon me. It is sometimes common at the south, for slaves to take the name of their masters. Some have a legitimate right to do so. But I always detested the idea of being called by the name of either of my masters. And as for my father, I would rather have adopted the name of “Friday,” and been known as the servant of some Robinson Crusoe, than to have taken his name. (Editor’s note: William Wells Brown’s father was a white man.)
Continue reading

Portrait of Woman and Man with Bayonet

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Portrait of a woman and a man with a bayonet
Description: Portrait of a woman in a bonnet standing beside a man in Civil War era uniform with a bayonet and hand-colored buttons. In an ornamental case.
Source: From the Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, Cornell Universisity
Date: Late-19th century

The Joy of Being a Black Confederate

A young slave is brought to a Confederate army camp during the Civil War. He meets an older slave who’s been there a while.

Young Person: “How you doin’ old timer?”

Older Person: “Just trying to stay alive, son.”

YP: “What you mean, old man. We’re Black Confederates. I’m excited! Can’t wait to whip them Yankees!”

OP: “What you mean, boy? You’re a cook. Fighting Yankees, that’s what white Confederates do.”

YP: “Well, at least I don’t have to worry about my family being sold down the river, right?”

OP: “No no no, that’s white Confederates that got family rights, not you. You’re a Black Confederate. You can still go to the auction block if you don’t act right.”

YP: “Well maybe I can vote? Serve on a jury? I’m a Confederate citizen, right?”

OP: “Are you crazy? White Confederates are Confederate citizens. You’re a Black Confederate.”

YP: “Well, I’m gonna be free right? They gonna free all of us right?”

OP: “I’m gonna stop talking to you, you ain’t listening. Freedom is for white Confederates. You’re black. Instead of doing n****** work on massa’s plantation, you’re doing it for his army. And being a Black Confederate, they calls that your reward. Don’t seem like much of a prize to me, though.”

YP: “Darn, is that it? What good is that?”

OP: “Look here, son. My advice is, treat your massa good. Talk about how great the Confederacy is. Do whatever you’re told, and then some. When you get older, massa will remember. Might treat you better for your loyalty. Maybe they even make a statue for you. You know, them people can be very sentimental.”

YP: “Well… I guess that’s better than nothing.”

OP: “And watch out for them damn Yankees. Yankee bullet don’t care what color you are. Some of them even think we’re soldiers and shoot at us. Watch your back, son.”

YP: “You know, all of sudden, I don’t think I like this Black Confederate stuff.”

OP: “Don’t be down, son. I got this camp song for you. Ah ah ah ah, staying alive, staying alive. Ah ah ah ah…”

YP: “Oh my, that’s catchy. Ah ah ah ah…”

OP: “Oh yeah, you’re finally starting to get it. Sing boy!”

YP: “Oh yeah! Ah ah ah ah…”

Freedom from Shame: “A Christian and civilized city… should not be subjected… to the humiliating spectacle of a woman chained and pinioned and driven along the streets”


Slaves in chains: a not uncommon sight in the Antebellum South
Image: A slave-coffle passing the Capitol; Source: Library of Congress, Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-2574

Shame freed two black women from bondage in Tennessee during the Civil War.

The state of Tennessee was not covered by the Emancipation Proclamation. At the time the EP was issued (1/1/1863), most of the state was under US military control. As such, Tennessee was no longer considered to be in rebellion against the United States; and only  states that were controlled by Confederate rebels were covered by the Proclamation.

As such, slaveholders in Tennessee still had a legal right to chattel property. However, in March 1862, “the US Congress adopted an additional article of war forbidding members of the army and navy to return fugitive slaves to their owners.” In addition, Union Provost Marshal organizations had some leeway to enforce the law as they deemed appropriate and necessary. The Provost Marshal were Union military authorities who acted as a local police force in areas that were reclaimed from the Confederates. This would give the enslaved opportunities for freedom even in a Union slave state.

In February 1864, Major John W Horner, a Provost Marshal in Nashville, TN, was disturbed to see a young woman “with her arms securely tied behind her” walking behind a buggy on the streets of the city. He found the scene a “brutal and revolting act” that “subject(ed) a civilized and Christian city to the humiliating spectacle of a women chained and pinioned and driven along the streets.”

He details the scene and his response to it in this correspondence to the Provost Marshal of the District of Nashville, dated February 27, 1864:
Continue reading

Slavery: Inhumane… or Definitively Human?


Theodore Parker, 19th Century Abolitionist and Religious Leader: ‘I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways… But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.’

How many times have you seen or heard the expression that slavery is an example of “man’s inhumanity to man?” A lot, I would bet.

Well, Walter Johnson, a history scholar who specializes in the subject of American slavery, is not having it. In an essay in the Boston Review he writes:

Historians sometimes argue that some aspects of slavery were so violent, so obscene, so “inhuman” that, in order to live with themselves, the perpetrators had to somehow “dehumanize” their victims…

The apparent right-mindedness of such arguments notwithstanding, this language of “dehumanization” is misleading because slavery depended upon the human capacities of enslaved people. It depended upon their reproduction. It depended upon their labor. And it depended upon their sentience. Enslaved people could be taught: their intelligence made them valuable. They could be manipulated: their desires could make them pliable. They could be terrorized: their fears could make them controllable. And they could be tortured: beaten, starved, raped, humiliated, degraded.

It is these last that are conventionally understood to be the most “inhuman” of slaveholders’ actions and those that most “dehumanized” enslaved people. And yet these actions epitomize the failure of this set of terms to capture what was at stake in slaveholding violence: the extent to which slaveholders depended upon violated slaves to bear witness, to provide satisfaction, to provide a living, human register of slaveholders’ power.

Johnson says “by terming these actions “inhuman” and suggesting that they either relied upon or accomplished the “dehumanization” of enslaved people, however, we are participating in a sort of ideological exchange that is no less baleful for being so familiar. We are separating a normative and aspirational notion of humanity from the sorts of exploitation and violence that history suggests may well be definitive of human beings: we are separating ourselves from our own histories of perpetration.”

As stated by Johnson, slavery is not an example of inhumanity; it is a definitive example of how humans treat other humans. That’s a profound thought.

I have made the point that, the thing that separates us humans from non-sentient creatures is our intellect. Humans are subject to many ‘base’ impulses: we are materialistic, selfish, violent, tribalistic, and illogical. But our intellect enables us to create morals and ethics and values by which we can conquer, or aspire to conquer, our base instincts.

Theodore Parker, the clergyman and abolitionist who died in 1860, said ‘I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.’ But Parker did not believe that the arc would bend, inevitably, on its own; he believed it was up to humans to engage in acts that would force the arc to bend.

I do think it is dangerous to assume that the values we have today, such as the notion that all men are created equal and deserving of rights, are set in stone and will never change. I think we need to constantly reinforce those values. And I do think we need to look to the past to understand what mistakes were made, moral or otherwise, so that we don’t repeat them.

And part of that reinforcement is the acknowledgement that, despite our exquisite American beliefs in liberty, equality, and justice for all, we Americans have been all too human in our dealings with each other.

Sally in our Alley

Sally-in-our-Alley
“Sally in our Alley.”African-American girl dancing, African-American man with banjo, and another African-American man seated on steps, c1897. Photographic print on stereo card: stereograph. Stereo copyrighted by B.L. Singley (Keystone View Co.).
Image Source: Library of Congress; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-76162 (b&w film copy neg.); LCCN Permalink https://lccn.loc.gov/2002698375
To view a larger image, go here.

“Sally in our Alley” is a song attributed to the Englishman Henry Carey (1693?–1743), which gained some level of popularity in its day. “Sally in our Alley” also refers to a 1902 musical and three different films released from 1916 to 1931.

Perhaps the woman in the above image was dancing to the song. Or maybe her name was Sally and she was dancing in somebody’s alley.