AAfter The Fact: The View From the Bottom Rail
Summary of Chapter:
With the sound of cannons and gunshots firing in the air, slaves in the south knew that freedom was coming to a nation of four million slaves. Union soldiers would be portrayed as bad foreigners from their masters, with, “ long horns on their heads, and tushes in their mouths, and eyes sticking out like a cow.” (Page 171) Some slaves were overjoyed with rumors of emancipation and leaving their plantations to head north, but many slaves sided with their masters because they were afraid of what might happen later on. To newly freed blacks it was as if the world was turned upside down. One slave who was surprised and delighted to find his former master among prisoners he was guarding said, “Hello Massa! Bottom rail top dis time!” (Page 173) The new outcomes to be for slaves during and at the end of the Civil War were major in American history and were answered prayers from blacks. The chance for freedom was right around the corner, and on January 1, 1865 the 13’Th Amendment of the constitution was officially passed, the abolition of the institution of slavery.
Newly freed slaves were called by whites as “freedmen” or “freedpeople” with their new status being raised from slave to a free person now. Reconstructing the perspective of enslaved African Americans has proved particularly challenging stated the author, because the people who were able to keep record of events and personal occurrences were done by middle and upper class people. Almost all the information gathered about slavery came from the journals and diaries of whites that wrote about the life of slaves. The major problem with this is that the vantage point of white Americans observing slavery was emphatically not that of the slaves who actually lived under the institution. Most blacks were illiterate, and were not even allowed to be educated. Before the Civil War, slaves were not only discouraged to learn to read and write, southern legislatures passed slave codes that forbade anybody from teaching them. Although this was in effect, still a few slaves had become somewhat able to at least read. Antislavery forces often combined a strong dislike of slavery with an equally strong desire to keep the freedpeople out of the North. Almost everything in the North was segregated so blacks and whites would not have much social contact. In the south, segregation was not as severe and more racism was found in the North. Many Union soldiers had looked upon blacks with distaste and open hostility. As on recruit put it, “More than a few Yankees believed they were fighting a war to save the Union, not to free the “cursed nigger”.” (Page 177) Samuel Howe who was a wartime commissioner that investigated the freedpeople’s condition saw it as it was. “The Negro like other men, naturally desires to live in the light of the truth, but he hides in the shadow of the falsehood, more or less deeply, according as his safety or welfare seems to require it. Other things equal, the freer a people, the more truthful; and only the perfectly free and fearless are perfectly truth.” (Page 177) Northerners found it hard to imagine the freedpeople’s point of view because the culture of southern blacks was so unfamiliar to them. Their pictures of slavery had come from stories and probably Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Another difference in intellectual understanding of the slaves from Northerners was there heavy dialects and accents. Most northerners could not understand what they were saying at all, and if black dialect were difficult to understand, then black culture and religion would be just as hard to understand. People were shocked at the way they celebrated after church meeting with their shout groups. Encounters from northerners said that it was, “the most hideous and most pitiful sight I ever witnessed.” (Page 178) As the night would progress, dancing and singing only became stronger....
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