Thursday, July 2, 2020

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

Slavery has left an indelible mark on American society. Although abolished over 150 years ago, some forms of the racism that fueled the thinking that allowed the "peculiar institution" to once flourish are still around, and in some cases seemingly growing. Slavery's Descendants: Shared Legacies of Race and Reconciliation, edited by Dionne Ford and Jill Strauss, shares a number of essays by descendants of the enslaved, enslavers, and some who had both as ancestors. While some Americans simply pretend that this unpleasant era never existed in our nation's history and that we should just "move on" as a society, it is that lack of historical knowledge, along with not appreciating history's complexity, that these essays seek to correct. It should make for quite the interesting read.

Regimental histories started appearing almost as soon as the Civil War ended. How regimental histories are researched and written has changed significantly since then. Hundreds of units have received attention, but only a few of those are African American regiments. Studies on famous black regiments such as the 54th Massachusetts are easy to find, while other regiments like the 5th, 6th, and 38th United States Colored Infantry, and 1st and 2nd South Carolina have received books too. Adding to the growing body of USCT regimentals is For Their Own Cause: The 27th United States Colored Troops by Kelly D. Mezurek. Made up largely of free men from Ohio, the 27th USCI spent most of their wartime experience in Virginia and North Carolina in the IX Corps and XXV Corps. I'm looking forward to learning more about their service.

The famous Civil War stories of Fort Monroe, Virginia, are well known to this period's enthusiasts. "Freedom's Fortress" proved a magnet for enslaved people in southeast Virginia after Gen. Benjamin Butler famously proclaimed three fugitive slaves "contraband of war" in May 1861. And after the war, it was Fort Monroe that served as Jefferson Davis' prison cell for two years. However, by the time of the Civil War, Fort Monroe already claimed a long history of service to the United States. Defender of the Chesapeake: The Story of Fort Monroe by Richard P. Weinert, Jr. and Robert Arthur is apparently the definitive work on this government coastal installation.

The story of African American land ownership in the former slave states is an inspirational one. While many blacks abandoned the South for better opportunities in the North, others continued to carve out a place of their own by purchasing acreage and becoming independent farmers. Looking at an Alabama plantation owned by North Carolinian Paul Cameron, A Mind to Stay: White Plantation, Black Homeland by Sydney Nathans, shows the trials and tribulations that formerly enslaved people and their descendants endured making a place for themselves despite discriminatory Jim Crow laws in the past and additional challenges in the present. It sounds like a fascinating read.

Happy reading!

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