More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889

More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889

by Stephen Kantrowitz
     
 

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A major new narrative account of the long struggle of Northern activists-both black and white, famous and obscure-to establish African Americans as free citizens, from abolitionism through the Civil War, Reconstruction, and its demise

Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation is generally understood as the moment African Americans became free, and

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Overview

A major new narrative account of the long struggle of Northern activists-both black and white, famous and obscure-to establish African Americans as free citizens, from abolitionism through the Civil War, Reconstruction, and its demise

Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation is generally understood as the moment African Americans became free, and Reconstruction as the ultimately unsuccessful effort to extend that victory by establishing equal citizenship. In More Than Freedom, award-winning historian Stephen Kantrowitz boldly redefines our understanding of this entire era by showing that the fight to abolish slavery was always part of a much broader campaign to establish full citizenship for African Americans and find a place to belong in a white republic.

More Than Freedom chronicles this epic struggle through the lived experiences of black and white activists in and around Boston, including both famous reformers such as Frederick Douglass and Charles Sumner and lesser-known but equally important figures like the journalist William Cooper Nell and the ex-slaves Lewis and Harriet Hayden. While these freedom fighters have traditionally been called abolitionists, their goals and achievements went far beyond emancipation. They mobilized long before they had white allies to rely on and remained militant long after the Civil War ended.

These black freedmen called themselves "colored citizens" and fought to establish themselves in American public life, both by building their own networks and institutions and by fiercely, often violently, challenging proslavery and inegalitarian laws and prejudice. But as Kantrowitz explains, they also knew that until the white majority recognized them as equal participants in common projects they would remain a suspect class. Equal citizenship meant something far beyond freedom: not only full legal and political rights, but also acceptance, inclusion and respect across the color line.

Even though these reformers ultimately failed to remake the nation in the way they hoped, their struggle catalyzed the arrival of Civil War and left the social and political landscape of the Union forever altered. Without their efforts, war and Reconstruction could hardly have begun. Bringing a bold new perspective to one of our nation's defining moments, More Than Freedom helps to explain the extent and the limits of the so-called freedom achieved in 1865 and the legacy that endures today.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
University of Wisconsin-Madison historian Kantrowitz (Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy) reappraises the role of African-American activists before and after the Civil War in this solid contribution to the historiography on citizenship, nationalism, and the politics of race in the United States. Kantrowitz broadens our general understanding of black and white efforts on behalf of black equality, underscoring continuities in antebellum and post-bellum politics, and demonstrating that from the early 19th century, with calls like David Walker’s famous Appeal, activists aimed at nothing short of the full promise and privileges of American citizenship for “colored citizens,” despite tremendous popular opposition and scorn. Kantrowitz concentrates on Boston’s rich history of activism (for which there is a corresponding richness of documentation) but the specifics offer contrasts and parallels at the national level. Close analyses of key figures as well as the relatively anonymous collective efforts underway in African-American organizations (including the early role of black churches and Masonic lodges) offer a nuanced understanding of a changing ideological and political landscape, including conceptions of “whiteness” and initially inchoate definitions of “citizenship.” (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
A searching history of the efforts by African-Americans before and after the Civil War to liberate their people and to stake a claim as equals in the land they helped build. Until the Thirteenth Amendment was enacted in 1865, writes Kantrowitz (History/Univ. of Wisconsin), "nearly 90 percent of African-Americans lived in slavery, and blackness was intimately intertwined with lifetime hereditary bondage." So intimately was slavery equated with being black, in fact, that even well-meaning whites had trouble putting African Americans on equal footing--e.g., African-American lecturers on the abolitionist circuit were paired with white lecturers but were paid less for the same work of rallying the audience to the cause of freedom. "Displays of autonomy," writes the author, "or requests for more pay by black speakers could bring chilly refusals and sharp rebukes." It was perhaps small comfort to the spurned speakers that they were at least free, for there were escaped slaves and ex-slaves among the freemen, among them Frederick Douglass, Henry Bibb and William Wells Brown. Such men--rarely women--became well known in the 1840s and '50s as the abolitionist movement grew, and inarguably they grew it. Still, when Douglass relocated to New York, his Bostonian patrons acted as if it were a personal rejection, setting off a decade of ugly back and forth that threatened to split the movement apart. Many of the figures in Kantrowitz's narrative have long been forgotten; many are oddly prescient, including those who refused to drop the notion that African-Americans might actually bear arms in well-regulated militias to serve the cause of freedom. That changed with the Civil War, the aftermath of which, writes the author, promised much but did not deliver all that it should have. A deft handling of overlooked history and a useful close study of data, documents and real lives.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594203428
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/16/2012
Series:
Penguin History American Life Series
Pages:
528
Product dimensions:
6.66(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.55(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Stephen Kantrowitz is a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he has earned several teaching prizes. He is the author of Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy, which was a New York Times Notable Book and won several scholarly awards. A native of Brookline, Massachusetts, he lives with his family in Madison and Denmark.

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