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Forceful and detailed account of the struggle for “freedom” after the American Civil War How did America recover after its years of civil war? How did freed men and women, former slaves, respond to their newly won freedom? David Roediger’s radical new history redefines the idea of freedom after the jubilee, using fresh sources and texts to build on the leading historical a Forceful and detailed account of the struggle for “freedom” after the American Civil War How did America recover after its years of civil war? How did freed men and women, former slaves, respond to their newly won freedom? David Roediger’s radical new history redefines the idea of freedom after the jubilee, using fresh sources and texts to build on the leading historical accounts of Emancipation and Reconstruction. Reinstating ex-slaves’ own “freedom dreams” in constructing these histories, Roediger creates a masterful account of the emancipation and its ramifications on a whole host of day-to-day concerns for Whites and Blacks alike, such as property relations, gender roles, and labor.


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Forceful and detailed account of the struggle for “freedom” after the American Civil War How did America recover after its years of civil war? How did freed men and women, former slaves, respond to their newly won freedom? David Roediger’s radical new history redefines the idea of freedom after the jubilee, using fresh sources and texts to build on the leading historical a Forceful and detailed account of the struggle for “freedom” after the American Civil War How did America recover after its years of civil war? How did freed men and women, former slaves, respond to their newly won freedom? David Roediger’s radical new history redefines the idea of freedom after the jubilee, using fresh sources and texts to build on the leading historical accounts of Emancipation and Reconstruction. Reinstating ex-slaves’ own “freedom dreams” in constructing these histories, Roediger creates a masterful account of the emancipation and its ramifications on a whole host of day-to-day concerns for Whites and Blacks alike, such as property relations, gender roles, and labor.

30 review for Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All

  1. 5 out of 5

    Domhnall

    The structure of this book is straightforward and it makes its arguments without excessively labouring the points. It opens by demonstrating that the emancipation of slaves in the American Civil War became an unavoidable war goal for the North primarily because of the actions of the slaves in liberating themselves. The many ways in which slaves were able and willing to revolt, despite appalling suffering and brutal punishments, is inspirational today and was seen that way at the time. So much so The structure of this book is straightforward and it makes its arguments without excessively labouring the points. It opens by demonstrating that the emancipation of slaves in the American Civil War became an unavoidable war goal for the North primarily because of the actions of the slaves in liberating themselves. The many ways in which slaves were able and willing to revolt, despite appalling suffering and brutal punishments, is inspirational today and was seen that way at the time. So much so, in fact, that the Civil War opened a period of revolutionary possibilities in American politics and society. The emancipation of slaves was such a seemingly impossible attainment that, once it became reality, other impossible goals also seemed attainable. Among these were the rights of women to vote in elections and the right of workers to an eight hour day. For a time, Black, female and worker rights were thought to be interlocked and capable of being pursued and attained together. The universal feeling was that freedom would not be given but might be taken through struggle and the self-liberating actions of the slaves were taken as the model to emulate against all odds. Sadly, divisions emerged which increasingly separated women, trade unions and freed slaves into competing and eventually hostile camps. These mutual tensions are described in painful detail and anticipated the contemporary discourse about ‘intersectionality’. At the same time, Reconstruction itself fell into disrepute. The counter-revolution was partly explained by the failure of either main political party to take the side of liberty. The Republican Party was more comfortable protecting the rights of property and business, while the Democrats took the side of authoritarian politics, racism, segregation, patriarchy and the interests of employers. The counter-revolution in the Southern States especially was also a popular and violent movement among the defeated white population. It targeted not only Blacks but Republicans and progressive groups and was expressed in extreme violence, while the Southern States imposed fresh legislative restraints on Blacks known as the Black Code, which corresponded to the earlier Slave Code. As women, workers and Black activists were driven apart, their separate goals were lost to sight for many decades to come. This tragedy was also a vital lesson. The book does not blame the progressive activists for their failure in the face of such powerful counter-revolutionary forces, but it does suggest for the future that each is more likely to attain its goals in coalition than in competition and hostility with each other. Phrased differently, authoritarian politics are consistently racist, patriarchal and economically oppressive, representing a common enemy. Even so, the barriers in the way of that coalition are formidable and possibly it may only be attainable and effective within the context of one of the major political parties. Of all sections, the most directly topical at the time of writing – thinking of Trump’s effective support for the Nazi marchers of Charlottesville in Summer of 2017 – is the account of the reactionary terror in the Southern States as Reconstruction reached its premature and cynical conclusion and the doors closed on such a promising moment in American history. It offers the label “terrorism” to describe events then, and that fits events today just as effectively. ... as much as the Republican Party would prove crucial to the disappearing of freedom dreams, the ability to combine terror and political acumen on the part of white supremacist Southerners also proved crucial in defeating meaningful emancipation. The odd syllables Ku Klux Klan, and the oddly titled Grand Cyclopses, Grand Wizards, and Grand Dragons providing leadership to that organization, capture the popular understanding of such terror. Picturesquely robed and hooded disguises completed a mystique that, as W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, gave “glamour” to terror. [p190] But the Klan itself was preceded by less coordinated attacks on freedpeople in the form of riots and night-riding, and it was succeeded by more of the same. The casualties came at the hands of the Klan, the Knights of the White Camellia, the Knights of the White Carnation, the White Leagues, the Red Shirts, the Knights of the Rising Sun, the Order of Pale Faces, the Knights of the Black Cross, the Southern Cross, the White Liners, and nameless mobs and individuals. From the New Orleans and Memphis Riots after the war to the Ellenton, South Carolina riots late in 1876, the violence proved varied and mobile, but unabated; 20,000 casualties is a conservative estimate. In some locales, deaths arrived by the scores, as at Ellenton and at the Colfax Massacre in Louisiana in 1873, in which forty-eight died while in custody as prisoners. Humiliations also came, as freedpeople with the temerity to vote, claim land, organize as workers, drill as militia members, parade as veterans, quit jobs, or stand up as domestic servants to their employers had to be brought to heel, especially through whippings and sexual violence. In some counties, the Knights of the White Camellia practiced what the classic history of Reconstruction-era terror called “nonviolent terrorism”—patrolling at night as if slavery had not ended and writing threatening letters—though the prospect of violence was what gave such intimidation force. The extent and variety of terror ought not to tempt us to view the racial and class violence as desperate, formless, or aimless. Instead, it was consistently focused in its targets and its goals, seeking the restoration of Democratic Party rule, the suppression of civil liberties and labor rights, and the assertion of control over the bodies and voices of those who had just won freedom. [p191]

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tacodisc

    Why did I read this? VersoBooks is a leading leftwing publishing house that specializes in array of social, political, historical and cultural subjects ranging from Critical Theory to Economics. It’s certainly up there on my list of favorite book distributors. I caught Roediger’s latest release on holiday sale, and since I’m always in the market for studies on Reconstruction, I thought I’d give this a shot, my first read of the author. While I’m familiar with the general background and lead-up to Why did I read this? VersoBooks is a leading leftwing publishing house that specializes in array of social, political, historical and cultural subjects ranging from Critical Theory to Economics. It’s certainly up there on my list of favorite book distributors. I caught Roediger’s latest release on holiday sale, and since I’m always in the market for studies on Reconstruction, I thought I’d give this a shot, my first read of the author. While I’m familiar with the general background and lead-up to Reconstruction in America, arguably the most egalitarian period in the nation’s history, this book promised a more detailed look at the ordinary, detailed facets of life during this period of history. In that expectation, I was not disappointed. Roediger demonstrates radical attitudinal changes amongst Northerners with respect to the possibilities of black (and women’s) emancipation with such artifacts as anti-racist envelope designs; paintings depicting the social power of women – particularly in the care of disabled veterans; and even popular jokes at the time (“the runaway master”) that showed a world turning upside down. The review below summarizes some additional takeaways and suggestions for further study. Review Since taking up independent study of The Civil War and Reconstruction about 10 years ago, I’ve found myself strongly on the side of an historiography that, taking Eric Foner’s research as a foundation, frames this period of American history as a revolutionary one, both in the political and social sense. David Roediger’s Seizing Freedom shares this perspective and expands its description of “revolutionary time” to include suffragists, labor and immigrant rights activists beyond the typical protagonists of such history: Radical Republicans, abolitionists and, of course, the slaves themselves. The entire picture amounts to what Roediger has recovered from a rich and incredibly well-documented collection of primary and secondary sources as a period of “Jubilee,” a joyous era of emancipation, the ripple effects of which could be found in the struggle for women’s suffrage, as well as Marxist and Anarchist-inspired movements for the 8-hour workday. In many ways, Roediger’s study is a spin-off of the “self-emancipation” concept originally developed by W. E. B. Du Bois’s in his classic Black Reconstruction. The major premise here is that slaves conducted a “general strike” against the Slaveocracy, withholding – before and during the course of the War – their labor through various means of escape, resistance and taking-up of arms in the struggle against the Confederacy. In its current iteration, the thesis is a challenge to titans in the field, such as the brilliant James M. McPherson, whose “Who Freed the Slaves?” answers with a resounding “Abraham Lincoln.” As I understand his argument, Roediger poses “self-emancipation” against the “Great Man” thesis not by way of absolutely negating Lincoln’s important role in prosecuting the revolutionary struggle against the Confederacy. Rather, borrowing from Byron’s dictum that “…who would be free, must themselves strike the blow” and Frederick Douglass’s understanding that power concedes nothing without a demand, Seizing Freedom challenges us to see beyond Lincoln’s role as the “Great Emancipator” – “shorthand,” Roediger argues, for impoverishing all [the] movements” addressed under the rubric of Jubilee. He identifies the North’s victory in the largely anonymous freedmen, women and allied whites in the abolitionist movement, without whose pressure and resolve the North would not have unleashed the war’s revolutionary potential. As he quotes Douglass in the introductory chapter, “We are not to be saved by the captain, but by the crew.” Douglass and Du Bois are stand-out figures in this book, and while I have a few outstanding questions about their / Roediger’s “self-emancipation” thesis, Roediger has left me with a much deeper interest in both of his subjects’ thought and activism. Victoria Woodhull’s sister, Tennessee Claflin, has also stood out for me as an interesting subject of deeper study, a militant socialist who at the head of an African-American militia marched with the Irish nationalists, and with the International Workingman’s Association in commemoration of the Paris Commune. I have highlighted Union Leagues, Disability Studies (a relatively new field of study it seems), the Civil War Veterans pension program and rifts between the Womens Suffrage and Abolitionist movements broadly as additional focuses for further research. I also appreciated the parallels drawn to today’s political environment: (a) the tendency of social movements to break-apart into sectarian or sectoralist milieus during historical troughs (anti-Revolution Time, as Roediger might say) and (b) the tendency of those movements to compromise principled independence when their strength appears to be waning (a la the Suffragists under Anthony and Stanton when they approached the reactionary Democratic Party). In summary, I found the book to be readable, engaging, conceptually rich, and considering the weight given to such cultural artifacts as suffragist patches and wartime anti-racist envelopes, incredibly detailed. In the Acknowledgements section, Roediger thanks his graduate mentor Sterling Stuckey, an historian and Melville expert “who made this book possible”- remarkable, I think, given Roediger’s own ability to tell such a compelling story across high and low points of social and political history.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lu

    The book tells the story of a revolution gone only half-way through, violently stopped in its tracks but also squandering its full potential on its own account. It starts by arguing that the emancipation of slaves in the US was made by the black people themselves (not by a giant allpowerful and golden-hearted Lincoln) through sustained resistance and rebelion (”a general strike”) which, in turn changed the goals and stakes in the Civil War. Second, that the self-emancipation occasioned a period The book tells the story of a revolution gone only half-way through, violently stopped in its tracks but also squandering its full potential on its own account. It starts by arguing that the emancipation of slaves in the US was made by the black people themselves (not by a giant allpowerful and golden-hearted Lincoln) through sustained resistance and rebelion (”a general strike”) which, in turn changed the goals and stakes in the Civil War. Second, that the self-emancipation occasioned a period where different liberation struggles (black rights, women suffrage, labor) were heading for breakthrough and reached to each other across race, class and gender divisions. Then it shows how the shared dream of liberation fell apart due to cynical post-war party politics reality, violent reactionary backlash but most tragically because of lost solidarity among the different revolutionary groups. The arguments are well constructed, aptly evidenced and examplified, including by period pieces which occasioned some compelling cultural analyisis . However the writing style is, to me, unnecesarily complicated, with unpredictable syntax turns causing me some teeth-grinding as I read on.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Callier

    Great intro to emancipation and Reconstruction as revolutionary in the "proper" sense, and to the great potential that alliances across race, class, and gender held just after the civil war. I'm not a historian so it was a bit hard to follow some of the minutiae of shifting positions and links between tendencies, organizations and movements--particularly ties and rifts between women's movements and forces advocating for freedpeople's rights. Great intro to emancipation and Reconstruction as revolutionary in the "proper" sense, and to the great potential that alliances across race, class, and gender held just after the civil war. I'm not a historian so it was a bit hard to follow some of the minutiae of shifting positions and links between tendencies, organizations and movements--particularly ties and rifts between women's movements and forces advocating for freedpeople's rights.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kel Munger

    David Roediger, a history professor at Kansas University, is an expert on American labor history and the persistence of racism. His latest, Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All, is the second major historical work this year to address the agency exhibited by enslaved people as they struggled to free themselves. “Self-emancipation”—also covered in David Williams’ I Freed Myself: African American Self-Emancipation in the Civil War Era—goes a long way toward de-bunking the myth th David Roediger, a history professor at Kansas University, is an expert on American labor history and the persistence of racism. His latest, Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All, is the second major historical work this year to address the agency exhibited by enslaved people as they struggled to free themselves. “Self-emancipation”—also covered in David Williams’ I Freed Myself: African American Self-Emancipation in the Civil War Era—goes a long way toward de-bunking the myth that African Americans waited patiently in chains for white people to decide they should be free. (Full review on Lit/Rant: http://litrant.tumblr.com/post/109101...)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Diarmaid

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jim

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    Erik Tsao

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    Andrew

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    Robert Wood

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    Ryan Healey

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    Erin

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    Bill Crane

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    Chris

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    Wgoron

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    Shaun Richman

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    Christy

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    Jon Morgan

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    Jake

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    Jack

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    Scot

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    Boyd McCamish

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    J Haydel

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    Ron Jacobs

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    Roger

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    Kelli Schutte

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    Martin

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ben

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    Matt

  30. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Carrico

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