Giving Thanks to God for the Jubilee


Day of Jubilee, Athens slaves remembered: From Online Athens/Athens Banner-Herald: “Visiors pray during the Day of Jubilee remembrance at Baldwin Hall at the University of Georgia in Athens Georgia, Thursday, May 4 2017. On May 4, 1865 Union soldiers road into the city and freed the slaves. The Athens Anti-Discrimination movement was also remembering the slaves that were recently moved from their original resting place near Baldwin Hall and removed to the Oconee Hill Cemetery Photo/John Roark, Athens-Banner Herald.” More here.

You shall count off seven Sabbaths of years, seven times seven years; and there shall be to you the days of seven Sabbaths of years, even forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. You shall make the fiftieth year holy, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.

It shall be a jubilee to you; and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee to you. In it you shall not sow, neither reap that which grows of itself, nor gather from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat of its increase out of the field. In this Year of Jubilee each of you shall return to his property. ​

Leviticus 25:8-13, the Bible

On January 1, 1866, Emancipation Day celebrations unfolded throughout the nation as they had since 1863. Near Fort Monroe, Virginia, where Jefferson Davis remained imprisoned, thousands of African Americans gathered at the schoolhouse for a procession composed of local organizations, men, women, and children. Banners with inscriptions such as “Abraham Lincoln, The Liberator and Friend of Our Race,” were are festooned in red, white, and blue along the schoolhouse walls as the crowd listened attentively to the various speakers.

In Petersburg, Virginia, several thousand freed men and women joined in a procession that extended for a nearly a mile before the crowd gathered for songs and general jubilation. In Richmond, 4,000 African Americans Assembled at a local church where the 24th Massachusetts (a regiment of black soldiers) supplied the music. The services opened with the singing of a poem:

Oh! Praise and tanks, the Lord he come
To get the people free,
And massa tink it day of doom
And we of Jubilee

– From Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation, by Caroline E Janney, pages 87– 88

For many African Americans, the end of the Civil War represented a religious reckoning. They believed that the combination of war and emancipation reflected the will of God. Like the Israelites of old, God had used his power to free men and women from harsh times. These persons, referencing their sacred text, interpreted their emancipation as the time of Jubilee that had been discusses in Leviticus, Chapter 5, of the Old testament.

This notion of the war and freedom as divinely inspired was quite common at the time, but is not well known to modern Americans. African Americans’ religious beliefs gave them a context and perspective in which to understand these momentous events, to reflect that God really was good, despite all that they endured, and gave them faith that better days were ahead.

Two other book passages further illustrate how African Americans place the war and their freedom into a religious context, one that references the idea of ‘Jubilee.’ Charles Royster’s 1991 book The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans talks about the fall of Columbia, SC, to the United States, and how various residents reacted:

War had changed Columbia. The city had never been large, numbering about 8,000 people in peacetime; but the war had more than tripled its population. Some people were forced into Columbia: slaveholders moved their human property. The number of black people in Columbia, usually about one third of the population, swelled with the influx of slaves. Some blacks had escaped during the relocation, had hidden in swamps, and were greeting the approaching Federal soldiers with the descriptions of the roads ahead. Blacks in the city felt sure of Sherman’s destination sooner than his own men did. On January 29, a white man who heard them noted: “The niggers sing hallelujah’s for him every day.”

Some of the slaves concentrated in Columbia grew restive, and white people reacted harshly. They set up a whipping post near the market in the Assembly Street. A black man caught smuggling News to Federal prisoners in the city received 100 lashes and a promise that if he repeated the offense, he would be killed. Afterward, he told the prisoners, “Dey may kill dis nigger, but dey cain’t make him hate de Yankees.” The daily whippings aroused bitter resentment among young Black men. Some of them called the Market post “Hell” and agreed among themselves to make a hell of the city once the Yankees came.​

The book goes on to note that the slaves communicated with and aided Federal prisoners held in Columbia and also Union soldiers who came into the city and the surrounding area; and also how the slaves used the Union occupation to gain vengance against whites whom they believed had mistreated them.

Later in chapter 1, Royster writes

[Sometime after Union soldiers had entered the city, and there had been fires and some looting] …in Main Street, crowded with hurrying people and lit by burning stores, a [Union] lieutenant asked an old black man: “What do you think of the night, sir?” The man replied; ‘Wall I’ll tell you what I dinks I dinks de day of Jubilee for me hab come.’

In his book The End of Days: African American Religion and Politics in the Age of Emancipation, historian Matthew Harper discusses the religious meaning of the war to black Southerners in the late stages of the war. He writes

On February 22, 1865, the 4th and the 37th U.S. Colored Troops, among others, occupied the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina. As the soldiers marched through the streets, they sang, “Christ died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” Slaves and free blacks lined the streets to cheer, dance, and celebrate. One African-American woman spotted her son among the soldiers. Young men who had left home as slaves now returned as liberators. Their presence meant the end of slavery.

White civilians stood aghast as black soldiers secured the city. For local whites, the control of Wilmington by armed black men was apocalyptic, a doomsday. One elderly white man heard a “shouting mass of ex-slaves” marching behind the lines a black Union soldiers, and in disgust, he called out,”Blow Gabriel, blow, for God’s sake blow.” He thought the world was ending, and he wanted it over quickly.

For local blacks, too, this day held eschatological meaning, though in a much different sense. Emancipation was the key moment in African American eschatology. That eschatology was on display the following Sunday when local African Americans gathered, as they usually did, for a sunrise prayer meeting at the Methodist church on Front Street. The church, a congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, had white and black members; it had a white pastor, even though the 800 black members easily outnumbered the 200 white members. Many of the church’s services were biracial with segregated seating, but the sunrise prayer service, a long-standing tradition, was attended only by the church’s African American members. On that Sunday it was no ordinary prayer service.

“The whole congregation was wild with excitement,” observed the church’s white pastor, “with shouts, groans, amens, and unseemly demonstrations.” A black leader named Charles chose the scripture lesson from the ninth Psalm: “Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked, thou has put out their name for ever and ever.” Charles told the people to “study over this morning lesson on this day of Jubilee.”​

After the scripture reading, a black US Army chaplain, Rev. William H Hunter, stood up to speak. Born a slave in North Carolina, Hunter was freed at an early age and moved to New York. He later attended Wilberforce University and was ordained an African Methodist Episcopal minister. Chaplin Hunter had arrived with his regiment only days before, and he brought with him news that the world now looked very different. When he spoke, an observer noted Hunter stretching “himself to his full-size and displaying to the best advantage for a profound impression his fine uniform.”

[Hunter] proclaimed, “One week ago you were all slaves; now you are all free.” The congregation responded with “uproarious screamings.” Hunter continued, “Thank God the armies of the Lord and Gideon has triumphed and the Rebels have been driven back in confusion and scattered like chaff before the wind.”

​For the freedpeople, the war was an affirmation that they were God’s children, that they were blessed, and that they could have a future as bright as that of any believer. God had not merely freed them, he changed them, and made them a way into a new future. For that, they freely and joyously gave thanks. Our tradition of celebrating emancipation and the Jubilee is long forgotten; perhaps this is something we should dust off and consider making anew.

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The War is Over; We Won; Time to Go Home – Victory and Freedom in Little Rock, Arkansas


African American soldiers mustered out at Little Rock, Arkansas, April 20, 1865; by Alfred Waud; published in Harper’s Weekly, v. 10, 1866 May 19, p. 308.
Image Source: Library of Congress; Reproduction Number LC-DIG-ppmsca-21005 (digital file from original item) LC-DIG-ppmsca-13485 (digital file from original item) 

To some, it seemed that the Civil War would never end. But end it did.

How sweet the taste of victory and freedom must have been, for the Union’s black military men! Perhaps as many as 70% or more of the 200,000 or so African Americans who served in the Union army and navy had been enslaved before the war. They understood the stakes: victory meant freedom; defeat meant the continuation of slavery, perhaps a harsher slavery in light of how many slaves supported the Union war effort.

On April 9, 1865, Confederate Gen Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Union Gen Ulysses S. Grant. That surrender ushered in the end of the American Civil War. Union men all over were ecstatic from the news.

Alfred Waud’s drawing captures the exuberance of the Little Rock, Arkansas, African American community as the U. S. Colored Troops returned home from war; over 5,000 men from the state of Arkansas enlisted in the Union army.  The victorious soldiers are joyously greeted by women and children, who no doubt had their own stories of travail to tell, as black civilians in the Civil War South.

An uncertain future awaited them all. But for now, they could finally go about their way, ushered on the wings of a new birth of freedom, ushered on the winds of victory that had earned.

December 18, 1865: It’s official – slavery is dead with the ratification of the 13th Amendment

It was 150 years ago, December 18, 1865, that the United States Secretary of State, William Seward, announced that the 13th Amendment had been ratified and had “become valid, to all intents and purposes, as part of the Constitution of the United States.” Officially and constitutionally, slavery in the United States was dead.

From: A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875, pages 774-775:

13th amendment Seward part 1

13th amendment Seward part 2

The 13th Amendment was passed by Congress January 31, 1865, and was ratified by the states at December 6, 1865. The Amendment states:

Amendment XIII

SECTION 1

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

SECTION 2

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Some people ask, why was the 13th Amendment needed, given that Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation (the “EP”)? For one thing, the Proclamation did not abolish slavery. Emancipation and abolition are not the same thing. The EP only applied to a set of people who were enslaved at a point in time, namely, January 1, 1863. Thus, there was nothing to legally prevent children who were born after the EP from being enslaved. The EP forestalled the possibility of the enslavement of future generations.

Additionally, slavery was still legal in Delaware and Kentucky. The EP did not apply to Union slave states; it was only effective for states that were in rebellion, i.e., the Confederate States. The Union slave states of Maryland and Missouri, for example, were exempted from the EP, but they passed laws/amendments in their states which abolished slavery before the end of the Civil War. Delaware and Kentucky, two other Union slave states, did not vote to ratify the 13th Amendment; however,  the Amendment did have the necessary votes for ratification, and so slavery ended in those  two states.

There was also the possibility that the Emancipation Proclamation would face legal challenges after the end of the war. The 13th Amendment made the matter of the legality and constitutionality of the EP moot.

Fighting over Freedom in Post-war South Carolina, Part 2: We Want to “to raise up an oppressed and deeply injured people”

http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/stereo.1s04415
Freedman’s school, possibly in Charleston, South Carolina, circa 1863 – 1865
> In November 1865, a  Colored People’s Convention of the state of South Carolina, meeting in Charleston, asked “that the three great agents of civilized society—the school, the pulpit, the press— be as secure in South Carolina as in Massachusetts or Vermont.”
Image Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection; Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-stereo-1s04415 (digital file from original item, front) LC-DIG-stereo-2s04415 (digital file from original item, back)

By the end of 1865, the American Civil War was over, and the United States had defeated the Confederate States. With the Union now “preserved,” it was clear that the wartime goal of emancipating the slaves would be achieved.  But the question remained: how “free” was “free?” Freedom meant different things to different people, and no one, definitive meaning had been determined. And so a contest to determine the scope and extent of the former slaves’ freedom was on.

On one side of this contest was men like South Carolina’s Edmund Rhett, Jr, a former Confederate army officer and editor of a prominent newspaper in Charleston. In correspondence discussing the post-war status of the freedpeople, he recommended a set of laws that would prohibit freedpeople from ever owning land, restrict “the method of (their) movements,” prevent Negroes from “competing with white men,” “control him, and keep him under good discipline,” and otherwise keep negroes “as near to the condition of slavery as possible.” If Negroes could no longer be owned, they would at least be controlled and subjugated.

African Americans had another idea. They were not ignorant of or naive about the intentions of former Confederates. After the war, they assembled at conventions throughout the South and North to discuss their dreams, goals, and action plans for improvement and progress. In November 1865, the Colored People’s Convention of the state of South Carolina met in Charleston and issued a statement (called a “memorial”) to the Congress which: protested so-called  “black codes” legislation that would place the freedmen in a state of virtual enslavement; demanded that their right to bear arms be protected; asked for suffrage rights equivalent to those of white men; and expressed hope that the “great agents of civilized society—the school, the pulpit, the press— be as secure in South Carolina as in Massachusetts or Vermont.” If there was to be a war of words, South Carolina’s black community was more than willing to exchange fire.

And as it turned out, the fight for a truly full-featured freedom would extend far into the future, to the Civil Rights era. Consider this one of the first volleys in the post-war struggle for liberation:

We, the colored people of the state of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, respectfully present for your attention some prominent facts in relation to our present condition, and make a modest yet earnest appeal to your considerate judgment. Continue reading

Fighting over Freedom in Post-war South Carolina, Part 1: Keep the Negro “as near to the condition of slavery as possible”

Negro quarters on Fripp Place, St. Helena Is. [i.e. Island], S.C. 2a
Negro quarters on Fripp Place, St. Helena Island, S.C.; circa 1863-mid 1866; Hubbard & Mix, photographers; a group of African Americans gathered outside of their living quarters, possibly on Thomas James Fripp place on Saint Helena Island, South Carolina.
Note: Edmund Rhett, Jr’s post-Civil War proposal for the “preservation of… our social system,” as described below, would prohibit African Americans from owning land and restrict their ability to move. Thus, they would be forced to live in housing quarters like this into perpetuity, if their master so desired.
Image Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection; Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-stereo-1s03955 (digital file from original item, front) LC-DIG-stereo-2s03955 (digital file from original item, back)

What, exactly, was freedom supposed to look like? This was a subject of much debate in late 1865, in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War (and for some time after that, as it turned out). The Union promised that slavery would end, and ongoing efforts to pass the 13th Amendment, whose ratification at the end of the year constitutionally abolished slavery, gave good reason to believe that the peculiar institution was truly in its death throes.

But it was still an open question as to how far freedom would go. Emancipation did not necessarily mean economic independence, or political or social equality. Over the course of the Reconstruction era – when the former Confederate States were re-integrated into the United States – there would be a battle between blacks and whites, northerners and southerners, and Republicans and Democrats, about the rights, privileges, and opportunities that African Americans would have in the South.

Edmund Rhett, Jr, had his own vision of emancipation: keep the Negro “as near to the condition of slavery as possible.” Rhett, from the prominent Rhett family of South Carolina, was an editor of the Charleston Mercury newspaper, and served as an officer in Confederate Army. In mid-October, 1865, he wrote a letter to former U.S. Representative Armistead Burke, which detailed his ideas for dealing with the freepeople in the post-war South. [1] These are excerpts:

Edmund Rhett, Jr, letter to Armistead Burt, October 14, 1865.

Dear Sir:

With great diffidence and some hesitation I venture to enclose you certain propositions relative to the negro-discipline and negro-labor questions, Which have occurred to me, and impressed me as essential to the preservation of our labor system, and, indeed, our social system. As one of the Commission Appointed to suggest such laws as are advisable for the regulation and the protection of the Negro, I venture to submit these propositions to your consideration.

…[T]he sudden and entire overthrow of that system which has taken place is unwise, injurious, and dangerous to our whole system, pecuniary and social… it must follow as a natural sequence, it appears to me, that, sudden and abrupt abolition having taken place by force of arms, it should be to the utmost extent practicable be limited, controlled, and surrounded with such safeguards, as will make the change as slight as possible both to the white man and the negro, the planter and of the workmen, the capitalist and the laborer.

In other words, that the general interest of both the white man and the Negro requires that he should be kept as near to his former condition as Law can keep him and that he should be kept as near to the condition of slavery as possible, and as far from the condition of the white man as practicable. Continue reading

Group of Children at the Model School, Fisk University, Nashville; And The Fisk Sesquicentennial

Nashville Normal School Edit
Group of Children at the Model School, Fisk University, Nashville Tenn; circa 1899; please click here for  full resolution view of the image.
Image Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.  Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-54757 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 11299 [item] [P&P]

After the Civil War, freedmen and their supporters engage in a major project: the creation of educational institutions in which African Americans could learn to read and write. For them, literacy, and also numeracy, were the key to progress and improvement.

One of those institutions was Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee. As noted at the University’s website,

In 1865, barely six months after the end of the Civil War and just two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, three men — John Ogden, the Reverend Erastus Milo Cravath, and the Reverend Edward P. Smith — established the Fisk School in Nashville.

The school was named in honor of General Clinton B. Fisk of the Tennessee Freedmen’s Bureau, who provided the new institution with facilities in former Union Army barracks near the present site of Nashville’s Union Station. In these facilities Fisk convened its first classes on January 9, 1866. The first students ranged in age from seven to seventy, but shared common experiences of slavery and poverty — and an extraordinary thirst for learning.

As part of its enterprise, the University created a Model School, for the education of local children. The above image shows children and adults holding hands in a circle, perhaps in a school yard.

Next year (2016), then, is the Sesquicentennial (150th) Anniversary of one of the trailblazers in the national movement to educate and improve the African American community. I encourage all of us to contemplate this great transformation, from enslavement to freedom, and how these African American institutions – which were created by an integrated leadership – were part of that transformation.

 

Saluting the flag at the Whittier Primary School, Hampton, Virginia, circa 1899-1900


Saluting the flag at the Whittier Primary School, Hampton, Virginia, circa 1899 – 1900;  Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1864-1952, photographer. Click on the image for a larger/higher resolution version of the photograph.
Image Source: Library of Congress, Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-65770; see here for more details

This picture was taken in 1899 or 1900, just as the full force of segregation was tightening itself around the necks of African Americans – sometimes in a literal way.

Yet, these children – or their parents and teachers – still saw fit to salute the flag. But then, that flag might have freed their parents or grandparents from bondage in the wake of the American Civil War. Some of them might have had family who served in the Union army or navy, or who provided labor to the army at nearby Fort Monroe. So the United States flag was still something to respect and cherish, perhaps even without a sense of irony.

The Whittier School for children was “used as a practice ground for teaching students of the Hampton Normal School” (“Normal Schools” were schools for teachers), which was part of Hampton Institute, in Hampton, Virginia. Hampton Institute was one of many institutions established after the war to provide education and training to the former slaves as they made the transition to free citizens.


Close-up on boy holding the flag

See also A Field Trip to the Freedom Fortress by Hampton Institute Students.

A Field Trip to the Freedom Fortress by Hampton Institute Students

Field Trip to Fort Monroe
Students at Hampton Institute, VA, view a cannon at Fort Monroe, circa 1899-1900; Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1864-1952, photographer.
Source: Library of Congress, Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection. Created/published in 1899 or 1900; LOC Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-117748

Fort Monroe, just outside modern day Hampton, Virginia, was a Union military base where three African American men – Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory and James Townsend – escaped to freedom early in the Civil War. In return for giving their labor to the Union, the US Army Major General Benjamin Butler gave them asylum from bondage  Those men blazed a trail that would eventually lead to freedom for millions of bondsmen.

After the war, numerous schools were founded as places where freedmen and women could improve themselves through education and training. Thus was born Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, which today is called Hampton University. At the turn of the century (19th to 20th), these Institute students visited the place that was known to escaping slaves – perhaps their mothers and fathers – as the Freedom Fortress.

 

Caption This (Nanny and Child)

Dixons carburet of iron stove polish copy
“Dixon’s carburet of iron stove polish,” circa 1885; printers and engravers include Major & Knapp Engraving, Manufacturing & Lithographic Co. (New York) and A. Gast & Co. (New York and St. Louis).
Description: From a “series of illustrated trade cards depicting an African American woman affectionately playing in the kitchen with a young girl, who is partially covered in Dixon’s carburet of iron stove polish. The little girl stands on the kitchen table and grabs the woman’s cheek as a kettle boils on the stove in the background. Joseph Dixon produced his carburet of iron stove polish in 1827.”
Image and Description Source: Library Company of  Philadelphia, African Americana Collection – African American Graphics Collection; see here for Library Company of Philadelphia’s homepage.
(Carburet: car·bu·ret [kär′bə-rāt′, -rĕt′] To combine or mix (a gas, for example) with volatile hydrocarbons, so as to increase available fuel energy.)

OK, what’s your caption for this image?