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In the Media

article imagePhotos: Envisioning Emancipation — Black slaves after freedom

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By JohnThomas Didymus
Dec 25, 2012 in World
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A new book features more than 150 photographs of former African American slaves at the Emancipation. The publication coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
Some of the photos were among several distributed in the northern states to aid propaganda in the fight for abolition of slavery.
According to The New York Times, half of the photographs have never before been seen by the public. They depict many aspects of the conditions of African Americans at the Emancipation.
Many of the photos are studio portraits. They were distributed in the northern states to show that former slaves could become "respectable people" after emancipation.
Ironically, some of the images were also used by supporters of slavery as evidence of its "natural order and orderliness," as some argue to this day.
But they were used mostly for the purpose of promoting the fight for abolition of slavery. The Daily Mail comments: "... following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the use of photography evolved - eventually being used by black men and women to show off their new, post-slavery looks and to portray their hopes of freedom."
Family of a black Union soldier: 1863-65
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Family of a black Union soldier: 1863-65
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Studio portrait of a black sailor: c.1881-65
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Studio portrait of a black sailor: c.1881-65
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Self-liberated teenage girl with two Union soldiers  1862.  They aren t threatening to shoot the gir...
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Self-liberated teenage girl with two Union soldiers, 1862. They aren't threatening to shoot the girl. The manner of posing was popular at the time.
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The photos were collated by Dr. Deborah Willis, professor at the department of photography and imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and Dr. Barbara Krauthamer, assistant professor of history at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
Rare photo: Men collect bodies of soldiers killed in battle  Cold Habor  Virginia  1865.
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Rare photo: Men collect bodies of soldiers killed in battle, Cold Habor, Virginia, 1865.
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This former slave holds a horn used to call slaves to work  Marshall  Texas.
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This former slave holds a horn used to call slaves to work, Marshall, Texas.
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1902. Susie king Taylor. First African American to teach openly in a school fro freed slaves.
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1902. Susie king Taylor. First African American to teach openly in a school fro freed slaves.
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1915. Booker T. Washington  teacher  author  orator  presidential adviser...
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1915. Booker T. Washington, teacher, author, orator, presidential adviser...
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The publication is the culmination of years of researching in museums and archives around the country. Both Willis and Krauthamer had been deeply impressed by the photo of a slave woman, Dolly, whose fate remains a mystery. The New York Times reports the photograph had a handwritten caption dated 1863, with a headline offering a reward of "$50" for the return of Dolly to her owner in Augusta Georgia.
 District of Columba  Compay E  Fourth U.S. Colored Infantry  at Fort Lincoln.
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"District of Columba, Compay E, Fourth U.S. Colored Infantry, at Fort Lincoln."
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1862. Year before Emancipation Proclamation. Fugitive slaves fording the Rappahannock River.
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1862. Year before Emancipation Proclamation. Fugitive slaves fording the Rappahannock River.
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Urias Africanus McGill  a freed slave  Liberian merchant
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Urias Africanus McGill, a freed slave, Liberian merchant
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Sarah McGill  Urias  sister
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Sarah McGill, Urias' sister
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The photo provoked the researchers asking the question: "What does freedom look like?"
According to The New York Times, the publication is the latest in recent projects that have contributed to national discussion of the legacies of the Civil War. The projects include Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and “The Civil War and American Art,” an exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington.
The researchers have expressed hope that the book will help to extend the photographic record and stimulate fresh discussion about the issues of race and freedom.
1864:  Colored army teamsters  Cobb Hill  Va.
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1864: "Colored army teamsters, Cobb Hill, Va."
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1863-65. Soldier in Union uniform
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1863-65. Soldier in Union uniform
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Envisioning Emancipation
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Envisioning Emancipation
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Willis says their research revealed new images "that have gone missing from the historical record."
Dr. Willis said: "We wanted a range of images that showed the scope of the thinking about what freedom looked like. We consciously looked for black photographers; we consciously looked for images of women, whose stories have often not been included.”
The researchers said they sought "evocative photographs of everyday life," and tried to compile photos that would serve "a family album" of “the collective African-American experience.”
The photos include images not only of plantation slaves, but also of relatively prosperous black families, black Union soldiers and Emancipation Day celebrations. The photographs include former African American slaves dressed up in their Sunday best for self-images of freedom.
The photos include "before" and "after" images of black families, adults and children, purportedly showing how freedom transforms them from ragamuffins into "respectable" people, albeit in the "well-dressed" and "comported" model of white Americans. Some show mix-blooded African-Americans with light skin tones to evoke sympathy of white northerners.
The images were used by leading abolitionist campaigners such as Frederick Douglas.
1907. A black family in Savannah  Georgia
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1907. A black family in Savannah, Georgia
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1905 Emancipation Day Parade
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1905 Emancipation Day Parade
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According to Eric Foner, history professor at Columbia University, “There is a visceral kind of understanding you get from images like these that you don’t get from text." He added, “I do think images like this can be very, very important.”
Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, at the New York Public Library, pointed out that the best known images from the period show African-Americans in dire poverty and danger of being lynched.
The New York Times, however, notes the fact that the new art and technology of photography was also put to such less honorable uses such as documenting the supposed inferiority of non-white races. The website makes a particular example of "dehumanizing portraits of bare-breasted men and women created for the Harvard scientist Louis Agassiz, who sought to document racial inferiority."
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