Many Ways Forward: Rethinking Black Familial Relations and Racial Uplift during Reconstruction

Solicited by the OAH Committee on the Status of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American (ALANA) Historians and ALANA Histories. Endorsed by Women and Social Movements in the United States, 16001910” examines African Americans’ efforts to stay connected after the dislocation of Black families during slavery and the Civil War. Shennette Garrett-Scott’s “‘Like Doves to Their Windows’: Working-Class Community and Uplift in Post-emancipation Maryland and Virginia” focuses on working-class Black women’s responses to racial uplift while they challenged racial capitalism and white supremacy in the post-emancipation era. Le’Trice Donaldson’s “Seize the colors! Uplift the Race: Christian Fleetwood and the Chocolate City’s Colored Cadet Corps” looks at Black male soldiers who believed military service was a way to provide social and racial uplift for Black communities in Washington D.C.

Papers Presented

“The Ties That Bind Us to Earth": Neighborhoods and Interpersonal Relationships of Black Southern Marylanders, 1850–1910

This paper explores lasting friendships and other relationships among southern African Americans from the antebellum years to the turn of the twentieth century. Focusing on southern Maryland, it shows that free and enslaved African Americans cultivated familial and non-familial relationships in towns and rural neighborhoods. During and after the Civil War, some black southern Marylanders remained together, relocating with their family, friends, and neighbors throughout Maryland and Virginia. African Americans’ efforts to stay connected amid the dislocations of slavery and the Civil War have been almost entirely neglected by historians, who have tended to emphasize how slavery and war destroyed and dislocated black communities. This paper uncovers how African Americans sometimes managed to stay with close friends and family, cultivated relationships, and preserved a sense of “home” by avoiding separation.

Presented By
Ana Rosado, Northwestern University

"Like Doves to Their Windows": Working-Class Community and Uplift in Post-emancipation Maryland and Virginia

Free Black women like Mary Ann Prout of Baltimore mobilized the community’s resources to provide a measure of economic security to Black women and their families. During and after the Civil War, Prout and formerly enslaved and free Black women contravened gender norms by speaking up in churches, breaking the law, leading formal and informal organizations, and protesting work and neighborhood conditions to achieve their goals. Private and public could be arbitrary distinctions in 19th-century society, but they nonetheless possessed power to shape expectations and place limits on women’s participation in public life. In post-emancipation Maryland and Virginia, traditional notions were being disrupted and remade, family and work were being transformed, and Black women challenged who held what rights and on what terms. Freedman’s Bureau agents, aid societies, reformers, employers, and white citizens often melded negative attitudes about Black women’s femininity, intellect, and labor. In their minds, Black women’s working lives invoked the same disdain and demanded the same diligent policing as their marriages, families, and sexuality. This presentation focuses on working-class Black women’s range of responses, including how they forged community in their working and private lives to expand notions of racial uplift while challenging racial capitalism and white supremacy in post-emancipation Maryland and Virginia.

Presented By
Shennette Garrett-Scott, University of Mississippi

Seize the Colors! Uplift the Race: Christian Fleetwood and the Chocolate City’s Colored Cadet Corps

Black men took pride in their performance as soldiers because, in part, they were able to be role models in the black community. Black soldiers understood that they had an obligation not only to be role models but also to serve as leaders and provide racial and social uplift for the community. Such a man was Christian Fleetwood, an example of a soldier turned role model and leader for the African American community. Fleetwood wanted to do his duty for his community and not only served as a clerk with the War Department, but he went on to establish and promote various military groups in Washington D.C. Fleetwood felt that military service would provide opportunities for discipline and development of manhood for young black men. This paper examines the how the desire for institution building and racial uplift fueled almost all aspects of African American military service after the Civil War. The narrative surrounding African American military service pays little to no attention to these paramilitary organizations which played key roles in helping to shape a new generation of African American soldiers and community leaders.

Presented By
LeTrice D. Donaldson, University of Wisconsin-Stout

Session Participants

Chair: Mekala Audain, The College of New Jersey

Presenter: LeTrice D. Donaldson, University of Wisconsin-Stout

Presenter: Shennette Garrett-Scott, University of Mississippi

Commentator: Stephen Kantrowitz, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Presenter: Ana Rosado, Northwestern University