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Posts tagged ‘slavery’

Visualizing Emancipation

We’re deep into the third day of our Teaching American History summer session and are busy uncovering all sorts of handy resources and materials. Part of what we’ve been learning is that African Americans of the 1800s played a huge part in their own gradual emancipation.

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education highlights and supports that sort of thinking:

Edward L. Ayers, a historian and president of the University of Richmond, calls the emancipation of slaves during the Civil War “the least-understood social transformation in American history.” A new interactive map he helped build shows that emancipation didn’t occur in one moment, he says, but was “an unfolding,” happening from the very first years of the war to the very last. And, he adds, it happened because of African Americans, not merely for them, or to them.

Titled Visualizing Emancipation, this interactive map is an ongoing project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, that sheds light on when and where men and women became free in the Civil War South. It tells the complex story of emancipation by mapping documentary evidence of black men and women’s activities – using official military correspondence, newspapers, and wartime letters and diaries – alongside the movements of Union regiments and the shifting legal boundaries of slavery.

A very cool Web 2.0 way of helping kids see that there was way more to the Emancipation story than just Lincoln, his Proclamation, and the 13th Amendment.

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Letters of Note – “To My Old Master”

As an unabashed primary documents geek, I’m always looking for online and print resources that I can share with kids and teachers. A few years ago, I ran across a great primary document site and still use it to find incredibly weird, interesting, and engaging goodies.

Titled Letters of Note, the site

is an attempt to gather and sort fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos.

It seems a bit like a Wikipedia version of the National Archives or the Library of Congress if you and I were in charge. Basically just a guy who collects and confirms interesting tidbits of history. (Read more about the creator and his inspiration here.)

You can find tons of great stuff here. A group of us is sitting around today talking about ways to engage kids in the Civil War and Reconstruction and sharing great strategies. And Letters of Note comes through with an awesome letter from 1865.

Dictated by a former slave named Jourdan Anderson to his former master, the letter is a response to the master’s request that Anderson return and work for him following the Civil War. (Go here for version printed in August 22, 1865 New York Daily Tribune. Then here for an “update” of the Anderson family – using census data.)

Dayton, Ohio,

August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable.

Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated.

Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to.

Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,
Jourdon Anderson.

The number of things you can do with this specific document is the classroom is almost endless. What sorts of things are over at Letters of Note?

So be sure to head over and check it out. Even if you’re not a primary source geek.

Critical thinking and DocsTeach

When DocsTeach came out last fall, I mentioned how cool it looked and how it could help teachers use primary sources in the classroom.

I really love the concept here. Use primary sources, integrate them into a tool that takes advantage of the latest technology and ask kids to think critically. If you haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, here’s a quick review.

Create an free account and you’re in. Once you are logged in, you can:

  • Create “classrooms” for each of your actual classes
  • Find activities and primary documents from over 3000 already in the database
  • Save your activities and documents by “starring” your favorites
  • Add your newly discovered activities and documents to each of your digital classrooms
  • Create your own online activities that focus on a wide variety of historical thinking skills with the cool Activity Creator
  • Share the URL for each of your digital classrooms with actual students
  • Facilitate the cool Flash-driven teaching activities in your face-to-face class

Today, I’m spending time with forty middle school social studies teachers talking about pre-Civil War slavery and its impact on the coming conflict. We played a bit with DocsTeach to let the teachers see how they might use DocsTeach to engage kids with primary documents.

One of the cool things that has happened with DocsTeach since last fall is that more and more teachers are using the site to create their own activities and share them with others. So we started with a teacher-created activity on the Kansas-Nebraska Act. And then we moved to another that focuses on events leading up to the Civil War.

If you haven’t had a chance to look at and play with DocsTeach, you really need to head over there.

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Slavery equals Civil War. What’s not to get?

I love Christmas. Okay . . . what I really love is Christmas break. I save vacation days and spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s staying up late and reading.

This year? The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl and At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson.

And, of course, tons of online stuff. I’ve gotten hooked on the iPad Flipboard app and could spend hours browsing cool, useful, useless and random goodies.

It was during one of those random meanderings that I ran across a quick post about Republican governor of Mississippi Haley Barbour and his recent interactions with the media. If you haven’t been keeping score, Haley seems just a bit out of touch with reality – both in 2010 and the 1960s.

Barbour grew up in Yazoo City, Mississippi and was in his teens during the early 1960s. When asked in a recent interview what life was like growing up in the South during the Civil Rights movement, Barbour replied

I just don’t remember it as being that bad.

Of course, this may have had something to do with the fact that Barbour’s white.

He went on to praise the work of the local White Citizens Council for its work in keeping the peace in Yazoo City. Mmmm . . .

But like all things online, that conversation led to other topics and discussions. Including, as the country begins the Civil War sesquicentennial, the idea pushed by some that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War.

Really? That old chestnut? Surely people can’t still be arguing for that old states rights idea.

Apparently they can. The Secession Gala, held in Charleston, S.C. several weeks ago, celebrated the signing of the Ordinance of Secession, the document that is seen by historians as the beginning of the Civil War. The focus? States rights.

We’re celebrating that those 170 people risked their lives and fortunes to stand for what they believed in, which is self-government. Many people in the South still believe that is a just and honorable cause.

Apparently forgetting that the document itself spelled out pretty clearly what the issue was:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union . . .

It’s interesting that historian James Loewen suggests that the Ordinance actually outlines South Carolina’s opposition to states rights. The document lists grievances against 13 northern states for passing laws that attempted to hold federal slave policy (such as the Fugitive Slave Act) at bay — using states’ rights as their rationale.

The future Confederate leaders, President Jefferson Davis and Vice-President Alexander Stephens, certainly knew what the issue was. Davis in April 1861 extolled slavery as a benevolent invention that allowed a

“superior race” to transform “brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers.”

Stephens, in March 1861, proclaimed that Thomas Jefferson’s earlier declarations of universal liberty were “in violation of the laws of nature.”

Our new government is founded on exactly the opposite idea. Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.

William Harris also knew. Speaking to the Georgia secession convention in 1860, he brought greetings from Mississippi:

Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish – the part of Mississippi is chosen. She will never submit to the principles and policies of this Black Republican administration. She had rather see the last of her race, men, women and children, immolated in one common funeral pyre than see them subjected to the degradation of civil, political and social equality with the Negro race.

States rights? Maybe. But as award-winning Civil War historian James McPherson asked

States rights for what purpose?

It’s pretty obvious. Southerners of the 1860s were very clear about what the issue was. As we begin the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, let’s be just as clear. It wasn’t about states rights. It was about human rights.

What’s not to get?

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John Hope Franklin 1915 – 2009

I had the privilege of working with a group of teachers several years ago as part of a Teaching American History grant titled American Rights and Race Relations: The Legacy of Brown vs. Topeka. Together for three years, the group studied the century before the 1954 Supreme Court case, the actual case and the half-decade since.

It was an eye-opener for me.

With both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in American history, I knew a lot.jhf But I didn’t know a lot about African American history. We had the chance to read and discuss a ton of stuff that I wasn’t familiar with and had not studied. Some of that material was written by John Hope Franklin.

I was familiar with his book, From Slavery to Freedom, but hadn’t read any of his latest stuff. Together with books such as Why Black People Tend to Shout: Cold Facts and Wry Views from a Black Man’s World, Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black, The Sweeter the Juice: A Family Memoir in Black and White and Slaves in the Family, Franklin’s work had a huge impact on my historical worldview.

Franklin passed away last week at the age of 94.

The grandson of a slave, Franklin wrote Freedom in 1947 and later worked with future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall on the Brown vs. Board of Topeka case. He joined civil rights marchers and leaders during the 1960s in Alabama and was selected by President Clinton as the chairman of Clinton’s One America Initiative, charged with directing a national conversation on race relations. He served as president of the American Historical Association. In 2006, Franklin was announced as the third recipient of the John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the study of humanity.

He once said that on the evening before he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Clinton in 1995, a woman at his club in Washington asked him to get her coat. About the same time, a man at a hotel handed his car keys to Franklin and told him to get his car.

“I patiently explained to him that I was a guest in the hotel, as I presumed he was, and I had no idea where his automobile was. And, in any case, I was retired.”

I knew Franklin only by his writings and speeches. But I am a better person, and America is a better place, because of Franklin’s scholarship and his public service.

Leonard Pitts suggests that the best way to honor Franklin’s memory is to read his books. I couldn’t agree more.

Lincoln, Taney and 2009

We all know that President Obama specifically asked for the Lincoln Bible to be usedobama during his swearing-in ceremony in January. But not until browsing through an old copy of Newsweek magazine was I reminded of the true historical significance of that little tidbit.

Okay, let’s walk through this. Lincoln was sworn in by then Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney. The same Chief Justice who, four years earlier, in 1857 wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott v. Sandford court case.

Drift back to history class . . . this was the case that determined that Africans imported into the United States as slaves and their descendants – whether free or not – were not legal persons and so could never be US citizens. The court’s decision also said that Congress could not prohibit slavery in federal land. The case in which, among other things, Taney wrote that African Americans were

beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.

Remember?

Lincoln’s resistance to the Dred Scott case was already very evident in 1858 during his debates with Stephen Douglas. And by his swearing-in ceremony in 1861, it had become clear that Taney and Lincoln were on opposite sides of the issue.

(Ask your kids what might have been going through the minds of those two during that ceremony and I will guarantee a powerful conversation.)

Now fast forward 148 years to January 20, 2009.

We’ve got an African American woman holding a bible last used at Lincoln’s first inauguration, who was sworn in by the author of the Dred Scott decision – a decision that clearly stated that she and her husband, also an African American, had no rights as people, let alone lincolnAmerican citizens. A decision that left absolutely no room for the woman’s husband to become President.

(Ask your kids another question – What would be going through Taney’s mind if he were the current Supreme Court justice?)

Lincoln’s thoughts on slavery and the rights of African Americans clearly evolved over time. But his efforts, along with those of thousands of others throughout our history, made Michelle Obama’s simple act of holding a bible not just a possibility but a reality.

Happy Birthday, Abe.


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