Moving Toward Freedom?: African-American Mobility and the Perils of Emancipation in Civil-War Era Louisiana, 1862-1867
Pritchard, William Ryan
MetadataShow full item record
The wartime emancipation of hundreds of thousands of slaves during the Civil War (1861-65) has long been celebrated by historians and scholars as a turning point in American history. Dating back to the publication of W.E.B. DuBois’s landmark study, Black Reconstruction in America, scholars celebrated slaves as agents who hastened their own freedom through their physical bodily movement. While many able-bodied male and female slaves ran to the Union army and gained freedom, increased physical mobility also presented runaway slaves, those left behind, and the Federal government with a myriad of unintended difficulties. Black men and women ran to a Union army which feared a humanitarian disaster and stridently endeavored to keep them out of major cities like New Orleans. The movements of Union and Confederate armies created traumas of separation for black families while also exposing emancipated slaves to epidemics and increased chances at death. In their attempts to resuscitate south Louisiana’s plantation economy during the war, the Federal government created a wage labor system that dislocated and disadvantaged women, children, the aged, and infirm. In New Orleans in the months after aftermath of the war, mobility became a viciously contested terrain as newly-liberated slaves asserted their ability to move freely about the city and assemble politically even in the face of a deadly race riot in 1866. Through a multifaceted study of physical mobility during emancipation in Civil War era south Louisiana, the African-American struggle for freedom becomes more nuanced.