On Jordan's Banks: Emancipation and Its Aftermath in the Ohio River Valley

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The story of the Ohio River and its settlements are an integral part of American history, particularly during the country's westward expansion. The vibrant African American communities along the Ohio's banks, however, have rarely been studied in depth. Blacks have lived in the Ohio River Valley since the late eighteenth century, and since the river divided the free labor North and the slave labor South, black communities faced unique challenges.

In On Jordan's Banks, Darrel E. Bigham examines the lives of African Americans in the counties along the northern and southern banks of the Ohio River both before and in the years directly following the Civil War. Gleaning material from biographies and primary sources written as early as the 1860s, as well as public records, Bigham separates historical truth from the legends that grew up surrounding these communities.

The Ohio River may have separated freedom and slavery, but it was not a barrier to the racial prejudice in the region. Bigham compares early black communities on the northern shore with their southern counterparts, noting that many similarities existed despite the fact that the Roebling Suspension Bridge, constructed in 1866 at Cincinnati, was the first bridge to join the shores. Free blacks in the lower Midwest had difficulty finding employment and adequate housing. Education for their children was severely restricted if not completely forbidden, and blacks could neither vote nor testify against whites in court. Indiana and Illinois passed laws to prevent black migrants from settling within their borders, and blacks already living in those states were pressured to leave.

Despite these challenges, black river communities continued to thrive during slavery, after emancipation, and throughout the Jim Crow era. Families were established despite forced separations and the lack of legally recognized marriages. Blacks were subjected to intimidation and violence on both shores and were denied even the most basic state-supported services. As a result, communities were left to devise their own strategies for preventing homelessness, disease, and unemployment.

Bigham chronicles the lives of blacks in small river towns and urban centers alike and shows how family, community, and education were central to their development as free citizens. These local histories and life stories are an important part of understanding the evolution of race relations in a critical American region. On Jordan's Banks documents the developing patterns of employment, housing, education, and religious and cultural life that would later shape African American communities during the Jim Crow era and well into the twentieth century.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An important and useful work and will cause historians and the public to continue the re-evaluation of the Ohio River Valley's transformation during the nineteenth century, the meaning of emancipation for African Americans, and the ways that blacks attempted, and in many cases succeeded, to advance as a group on both sides of the Ohio. All scholars interested in African American history, the Ohio River Valley, and urbanization should read this fascinating book." — Ohio Valley History" —
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813123660
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 9/30/2011
  • Series: Ohio River Valley Series
  • Pages: 456
  • Product dimensions: 1.13 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Table of Contents

Prologue : the Ohio River Valley as a region 5
1 Uneasy slavery in Kentucky along the Ohio 13
2 Incomplete freedom on the north shore 33
3 Conflict and remnants of slavery on the south shore 59
4 Blacks and whites together and apart on the north shore 81
5 Population and residential patterns 105
6 Free and equal, with opportunities and pains 129
7 Citizenship and civil rights after the Fourteenth Amendment 155
8 The progress of blacks and the ballot box 177
9 Making a living 201
10 Families and community life 229
11 Black society 247
12 Schools for blacks 271
Epilogue : from the 1890s to the Great Depression 299
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2006

    A new (and much needed) look at the Ohio River Valley

    Each morning when he was a boy growing up along the banks of the Ohio River, my dad used to row across to a small farm on the Kentucky side to buy milk. Though the maps in our childhood history books portrayed the river as a nearly impenetrable boundary between North and South, ON JORDAN¿S BANKS reveals its true nature as more of an Information Superhighway by comparatively studying African American life in the Ohio River Valley as a region. The book covers the period from 1861 - 1890 (and a bit beyond to the Great Depression in the epilogue.) Drawing primarily on secondary sources, Bigham finds surprising similarities between the north and south shores during both the antebellum and postwar eras. He explores the wide ranging forms slavery (and freedom) took in various areas...for example, it seems that some slaves in Louisville possessed greater liberties than free blacks in Cincinnati. He examines the development of churches, schools (both integrated and segregated), benevolent societies and the social strata within black communities and across racial lines. He explores the evolution of free labor. And he shows that the fight for civil rights and suffrage knew no boundaries. At times I felt statistics stalled the narrative, but this is a minor complaint and I¿m not sure it could have been handled differently as there is simply an overwhelming amount of information packed into this fascinating book. I recommend it to Ohio River history buffs as well as to African American Studies.

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