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Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery
     

Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery

by Deborah Willis, Barbara Krauthamer
 

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The Emancipation Proclamation is one of the most important documents in American history. As we commemorate its 150th anniversary, what do we really know about those who experienced slavery?

In their pioneering book, Envisioning Emancipation, renowned photographic historian Deborah Willis and historian of slavery Barbara Krauthamer have amassed 150

Overview

The Emancipation Proclamation is one of the most important documents in American history. As we commemorate its 150th anniversary, what do we really know about those who experienced slavery?

In their pioneering book, Envisioning Emancipation, renowned photographic historian Deborah Willis and historian of slavery Barbara Krauthamer have amassed 150 photographs—some never before published—from the antebellum days of the 1850s through the New Deal era of the 1930s. The authors vividly display the seismic impact of emancipation on African Americans born before and after the Proclamation, providing a perspective on freedom and slavery and a way to understand the photos as documents of engagement, action, struggle, and aspiration.

Envisioning Emancipation illustrates what freedom looked like for black Americans in the Civil War era. From photos of the enslaved on plantations and African American soldiers and camp workers in the Union Army to Juneteenth celebrations, slave reunions, and portraits of black families and workers in the American South, the images in this book challenge perceptions of slavery. They show not only what the subjects emphasized about themselves but also the ways Americans of all colors and genders opposed slavery and marked its end.

Filled with powerful images of lives too often ignored or erased from historical records, Envisioning Emancipation provides a new perspective on American culture.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
“I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance” was the caption on photographer Sojourner Truth’s visiting card. In this cascade of nearly 150 photographs reaching from the mid-19th to the early 20th century, Willis (a professor of photography at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts) and Krauthamer (a UMass-Amherst historian) bring their special expertise to a stunning range of images that “allow us to contemplate not only the history of slavery and emancipation but also our continued ties to that history and its legacies.” The result is a gem: haunting, touching, troubling, inspiring, and informative. The subjects are ordinary people, unsung in anonymity. The escaped slave Dolly pictured on a reward notice, a group gathered for a 1916 slave reunion, Emancipation Day celebrations, fugitives fording a river, chimney sweeps, family groups, and penal slavery crews are all part of this rich, diverse cornucopia. Particularly noteworthy is the attention given to women, especially their role in the Civil War. Unfortunately, the photographs are not keyed to the text, making a nuisance of linking them to the author’s clarifications. Though it does not purport to be a photographic history of African-Americans, one will certainly see the course of history leading to emancipation. 148 b&w illus. (Jan.)
From the Publisher

"Envisioning Emancipation offers an illuminating and inspiring look at the men and women who enabled, lived through, and were affected by the landmark event of emancipation. With a stunning collection of photographs accompanied by engaging new scholarship, this book is sure to have a vital and important impact on the way Americans see our nation and ourselves."-Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of the Studio Museum of Harlem

"When Frederick Douglass observed that 'Negroes can never have impartial portraits at the hands of white artists,' he virtually predicted a century of derogation and invisibility for African Americans. Images of African Americans under slavery or even later during Reconstruction are notoriously rare, and there has never been a comprehensive survey of these always illuminating photographs. In Envisioning Emancipation, Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer have painstakingly filled in many of the missing pieces, compiling an extraordinary photograph album of African American vernacular life that will be treasured as much for its historical insights as for its powerful aesthetic impact."
-Brian Wallis, Chief Curator, International Center of Photography

"Envisioning Emancipation is a rare publication that is both intellectually innovative and emotionally enriching. Willis and Krauthamer have transformed the way scholars will look at abolitionism and the transition from enslavement to freedom by carefully recasting and reassessing black imagery to better understand and explore the intersection of race, gender, propaganda, and identity. The authors remind us that photography was a valuable and effective weapon in the struggle over the future of slavery in America, a weapon that was used, fought over, and manipulated by all involved."-Lonnie Bunch is the Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

 "[A] stunning range of images that 'allow us to contemplate not only the history of slavery and emancipation but also our continued ties to that history and its legacies.' The result is a gem: haunting, touching, troubling, inspiring, and informative....Particularly noteworthy is the attention given to women, especially their role in the Civil War.... Though it does not purport to be a photographic history of African-Americans, one will certainly see the course of history leading to emancipation." —Publishers Weekly

Library Journal
Willis (photography & imaging, Tisch Sch. of the Arts, New York Univ.; Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present) and Krauthamer (history, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst; Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South) have assembled approximately 150 images from the 1850s through the first part of the 20th century, documenting African Americans' lives across the arc of slavery, emancipation, Reconstruction, and citizenship. In the 1850s, anthropologists and slaveholders began using photography to prove racist ideologies, justify the institution of slavery, and document ownership. As African Americans joined and assisted the Union army, they began to pose for portraits to assert their new status as free people, citizens, and soldiers. They later used a similar strategy to project respectability when Jim Crow laws threatened their freedom. The photographs here include well-known portraits of famous African Americans such as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth as well as previously unknown photographs about which the authors and the reader can only speculate. VERDICT Although some of the explanatory text accompanying the photographs is disjointed and somewhat superficial, this is an important addition to the documentary study of African Americans from slavery into the 20th century and marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.—Kate Stewart, American Folklife Ctr., Washington, DC

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781439909867
Publisher:
Temple University Press
Publication date:
02/27/2017
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
1,311,008
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.60(h) x 0.60(d)

Meet the Author


Deborah Willis, a leading historian and curator of African American photography and culture, is Chair and Professor of Photography and Imaging at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. She was a MacArthur Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Fletcher Fellow. Her co-authored book, Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs, received the 2010 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work-Biography/Autobiography. Her most recent books are Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present and Black Venus 2010: They Called Her "Hottentot" (Temple).

Barbara Krauthamer is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South as well as many articles and essays on the history of slavery and emancipation. She has received fellowships and awards from the Association of Black Women Historians, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Stanford University, the University of Texas at Austin, Yale University, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

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