Monday, June 15, 2020

Booknotes: Organizing Freedom

New Arrival:
Organizing Freedom: Black Emancipation Activism in the Civil War Midwest by Jennifer R. Harbour (SIU Press, 2020).

Jennifer Harbour's Organizing Freedom is a "social history of black emancipation activism in Indiana and Illinois during the Civil War era." Most Civil War readers are aware of how deeply unpopular both abolitionist sentiment and free black emigration was among residents of many parts of the lower Midwest, with the 1837 murder of Elijah Lovejoy in Alton, Illinois being the most commonly cited example of the most extreme public reaction to the former.

From the description: "Nevertheless, as Harbour shows, black Americans settled there, and in a liminal space between legal slavery and true freedom, they focused on their main goals: creating institutions like churches, schools, and police watches; establishing citizenship rights; arguing against oppressive laws in public and in print; and, later, supporting their communities throughout the Civil War."

Harbour's research is centered is on the emancipation efforts of black women during the war. More from the description: "Her distinct focus on what military service meant for the families of black Civil War soldiers elucidates how black women navigated life at home without a male breadwinner at the same time they began a new, public practice of emancipation activism. During the tumult of war, Midwestern black women negotiated relationships with local, state, and federal entities through the practices of philanthropy, mutual aid, religiosity, and refugee and soldier relief."

In the end, according to Harbour, "(a)s they worked through the sluggish, incremental process to achieve abolition and emancipation, Midwestern black activists created a unique regional identity."

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