Illusions of Emancipation: The Pursuit of Freedom and Equality in the Twilight of Slavery

Illusions of Emancipation: The Pursuit of Freedom and Equality in the Twilight of Slavery

by Joseph P. Reidy


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As students of the Civil War have long known, emancipation was not merely a product of Lincoln's proclamation or of Confederate defeat in April 1865. It was a process that required more than legal or military action. With enslaved people fully engaged as actors, emancipation necessitated a fundamental reordering of a way of life whose implications stretched well beyond the former slave states. Slavery did not die quietly or quickly, nor did freedom fulfill every dream of the enslaved or their allies. The process unfolded unevenly.

In this sweeping reappraisal of slavery's end during the Civil War era, Joseph P. Reidy employs the lenses of time, space, and individuals' sense of personal and social belonging to understand how participants and witnesses coped with drastic change, its erratic pace, and its unforeseeable consequences. Emancipation disrupted everyday habits, causing sensations of disorientation that sometimes intensified the experience of reality and sometimes muddled it. While these illusions of emancipation often mixed disappointment with hope, through periods of even intense frustration they sustained the promise that the struggle for freedom would result in victory.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469661568
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 08/01/2020
Series: Littlefield History of the Civil War Era
Pages: 520
Sales rank: 1,224,076
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Joseph P. Reidy is professor emeritus of history at Howard University.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

In this highly anticipated study, Reidy encapsulates a half century of scholarship on emancipation and its consequences while advancing a fresh and innovative interpretation. Employing something akin to a historian's theory of relativity, Reidy convincingly demonstrates that the supposedly fixed concepts of 'time,' 'space,' and 'home' assumed an essential fluidity within the context of war and social upheaval. This boldly original approach to the destruction of slavery—from one of the foremost scholars in the field—is sure to become indispensable reading.—John C. Rodrigue, author of Lincoln and Reconstruction

Reidy compellingly shows that the wartime emancipation was not a linear process but, instead, circuitous and unpredictable. A helpful, provocative, and groundbreaking book, and a valuable contribution to historians' ongoing efforts to write an adequate history of what Reidy calls 'the collapse of slavery.'—Kate Masur, author of An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C.

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