To commemorate Juneteenth, which Congress recently voted to make a federal holiday, these books explore the legacy of emancipation.

Araujo, Ana Lucia. Reparations for slavery and the slave trade: a transnational and comparative history. Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. 276p bibl index ISBN 9781350010598, $88.00; ISBN 9781350010604 pbk, 29.95; ISBN 9781350010581 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2018

Harvard historian Araujo surveys the long history of demands by slaves and their descendants for symbolic, financial, and material reparations for their enslavement. Whether as formal apologies, compensation in land, cash payments, pensions, or tax credits, over centuries bonded laborers and their offspring across the Atlantic world have sought forms of redress for their unpaid labor and heinous treatment by masters. Claimants for reparations have publicized their grievances and demands via petitions, slave narratives, speeches, litigation, pamphlets, newspaper articles, public protest, and the establishment of reparations organizations. Araujo is the first scholar to examine reparations for slavery and the Atlantic slave trade comparatively and transnationally, drawing on a broad range of texts in English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. The first demands for reparations emerged between the late 18th and 19th centuries, when abolitionists called for various forms of reparation. During the age of emancipation, individuals and groups clamored for diverse reparations. The main drive for compensation occurred from the Great Depression through the Cold War, culminating in the US during the rise of the Civil Rights Movement. By the late 20th century, robust calls for slave reparations had spread to West Africa, the Caribbean, and South America. An important book for all collections. Summing Up: Essential. All libraries. —J. D. Smith, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Berlin, Ira. The long emancipation: the demise of slavery in the United States. Harvard, 2015. 227p index ISBN 9780674286085, $22.95. 
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2016

Berlin (Univ. of Maryland), a leading authority on the history of antebellum free blacks, North American slavery, and the emancipation process, has written a short, fast-paced interpretive history of the transition of African Americans from chattels to free persons.  He challenges previous scholars who identify both a “moment” and a human factor that sparked emancipation—generally either President Abraham Lincoln or the South’s slaves—for initiating slavery’s overthrow.  Instead, Berlin takes the long view in charting emancipation’s circuitous metamorphosis, from the late 18th century until the 1860s.  Two consistent themes punctuated emancipation across time and place.  First, African Americans, influenced by the Declaration of Independence, led the crusade, consistently demanding and acting out their determination for unconditional freedom.  Second, throughout its long history, emancipation constituted a violent, often bloody struggle.  Berlin chronicles “the ceaseless carnage that manifested itself in every confrontation between master and slave.”  The black quest for freedom “left a trail of destroyed property, broken bones, traumatized men and women, and innumerable lifeless bodies.  It was manifested in direct confrontations, kidnappings, pogroms, riots, insurrections, and finally open warfare.”  In the end, Berlin credits black persons, north and south, for gradually but forcefully removing slavery’s stain from the fabric of American life. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels and libraries. —J. D. Smith, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Davis, David Brion. The problem of slavery in the age of emancipation. Knopf, 2014. 422p ISBN 9780307269096, $30.00. 
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2014

Davis (emer., Yale) needed nearly 50 years to complete his monumental The Problem of Slavery trilogy (1966; CH, Apr’75), but it has been worth the wait. This volume is not as comprehensive as the others, focusing mostly on Anglo-American slave societies and abolition movements. It is the most “American” of the three books; attention to significant later emancipations (Cuba, Brazil) is limited. Reading the previous two books is not necessary, but general familiarity with the history of slavery definitely helps. Davis first explores “animalizing” of slaves and its psychological impact. This partly echoes concerns of scholars (e.g., Stanley Elkins, Slavery, 1959) who thought the damage was irredeemable. But Davis crucially connects animalization to resistance against slavery’s harsh injustices, reclaiming slaves’ humanity. He covers the Haitian Revolution’s effects in the US; the colonization movement and its founding of Liberia; and how opposition to removing freedpeople helped define African Americans as Americans entitled to equal rights. Davis highlights the central role of free black abolitionists, and contends that despite its unfinished character–with little compensation or adequate preparation for freedom–emancipation is “probably the greatest landmark of willed moral progress in human history.” Summing Up: Highly recommended. Most levels/collections. —T. P. Johnson, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Freedom’s journey: African American voices of the Civil War, ed. by Donald Yacovone. Lawrence Hill, 2004. 568p ISBN 1556525117, $40.00; ISBN 1556525214 pbk, $21.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2004 

The responses of African Americans to the Civil War and emancipation are the focus of much of today’s best US history scholarship. This well-conceived and creatively and thoroughly edited anthology presents both familiar and relatively obscure voices that document the emancipation process and its meaning from the perspective of free blacks and former bondsmen. Yacovone (Massachusetts Historical Society) arranges the 57 texts in two parts: “Freedom’s Battlefield” and “Memory’s Battlefield.” He includes the speeches and writings of such well-known blacks as Frederick Douglass, Martin R. Delany, Henry Highland Garnet, Charlotte Forten Grimke, and Elizabeth Keckley. Other spokesmen and women–less familiar, perhaps, but no less persuasive and powerful in condemning slavery and racism–include James McCune Smith, J.W.C. Pennington, Susie King Taylor, and Elijah P. Marrs. These voices and others document the heterogeneous attitudes of African Americans toward abolition; colonization; racial violence; the mobilization of and discrimination against black soldiers; emancipation; and Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. In keeping with the best recent scholarship, Yacovone frames the postwar writings of former slaves and black soldiers within the context of historical remembering and forgetting. A sophisticated and invaluable collection. Summing Up: Essential. All college and university collections at all levels. —J. D. Smith, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

King, William S. To raise up a nation: John Brown, Frederick Douglass, and the making of a free country. Westholme, 2013. 679p bibl index ISBN 9781594161919, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2014

Histories of the Civil War have encompassed any number of ancillary issues that arose during the era, including the abolition of slavery. Independent scholar King, however, places abolitionism front and center in his book. Instead of identifying the crusade to end slavery as merely a cause and consequence of the larger Civil War, King weaves a narrative of abolitionism with the military conflict as the conclusion to a larger social goal. Instead of a milestone in the process, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation represents the culmination of a progression toward freedom that began decades earlier. Through the lives of key figures, such as the radical Brown and the charismatic Douglass, King describes the Civil War as a conflict that brought both a resolution to a divisive national issue when Lee surrendered at Appomattox, and the ending of a national moral offense with the demise of slavery in the Thirteenth Amendment. Well written and thoroughly researched, this book deserves a place as one of the great “big” histories of the Civil War. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. —S. J. Ramold, Eastern Michigan University

Lewis, Janaka Bowman. Freedom narratives of African American women: a study of 19th century writings. McFarland, 2017. 176p bibl index ISBN 9781476667782 pbk, $55.00; ISBN 9781476630366 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2018

In this compelling book, Lewis (Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte) explores freedom narratives written by African American women from 1861 to the 1890s. Unlike narratives of emancipation, written to support the cause of abolition before the Civil War, and not what Angelyn Mitchell has called “liberatory narratives,” written to explore the complexities of slavery by later generations, freedom narratives asserted African American women’s national citizenship by writing that citizenship into the national discourse. Freedom narratives were, Lewis argues in the introduction, above all an articulation of authors’ “freedom to choose their paths and to tell their own stories, in their own words and on their own terms” during the second half of the 19th century, when the terms of African American women’s citizenship were matters of intense political debate. To make her case, Lewis moves across a variety of narrative genres, including diary, autobiography, and fiction. She carefully analyzes works by authors such as Charlotte Forten, Elizabeth Keckley, Frances E. W. Harper, and Anna Julia Cooper. Crucially contributing to feminist recovery work and scholarship in African American studies, Freedom Narratives of African American Women is required reading for those interested in 19th-century America. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —G. E. Bender, SUNY Cortland

Rael, Patrick. Eighty-eight years: the long death of slavery in the United States, 1777-1865. Georgia, 2015. 392p index afp ISBN 9780820333953, $89.95; ISBN 9780820348391 pbk, $32.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2016

This important and vigorously argued study of the process of emancipation in the US, a process that began with Vermont’s abolition of slavery in 1777 and culminated with the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865—eighty-eight years—examines American abolition and emancipation over time, broadening the perspective on a story that usually begins with the rise of radical abolitionists in the early 1830s.  Rael (Bowdoin College) also examines those processes over space, situating US emancipation within the larger context of the Atlantic World in an era of revolution and abolition.  Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and the US were the only two nations to abolish slavery through violence and war; in both areas (and only in these two areas), Rael argues, the “slave power” was a dominant political and social element.  The power wielded by slaveholders, which Rael discusses in detail, thus virtually guaranteed emancipation would not be a product of the political process, but rather its breakdown.  With its wider chronological lens and hemispheric context, Rael’s book is a must-read study of slavery and its end in the US. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. —K. M. Gannon, Grand View University

Ruef, Martin. Between slavery and capitalism: the legacy of emancipation in the American South. Princeton, 2014. 285p bibl index afp ISBN 9780691162775, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2015

The Civil War was among the most dramatic events in history, as evidenced by the many publications on the topic.  But this new book by Ruef (Duke Univ.) makes significant new contributions.  First, it is a masterful application of the notion of uncertainty to the postbellum South.  While uncertainty is a central concept in economics and organization studies, Ruef places it in a concrete historical context, and his distinction between classical and categorical uncertainty is illuminating.  Second, this volume examines the impact of the Civil War from a bottom-up perspective.  Historians have tended to look at the role of political and military leaders and the change in political apparatus.  Ruef focuses instead on the life trajectories of blacks and whites affected by the historical transformation.  Third, different from the existing literature, which is dominated by political analysis, Reuf conceptualizes emancipation in the South as an institutional transition from slavery to capitalism, and provides a detailed analysis of the clash in economic institutions.  Fourth, he offers a comprehensive, systematic framework for analyzing the effects of change in economic institutions.  The three levels of analysis—individual, organizational, and community—exemplify conceptual clarity and empirical richness.  Combining qualitative/quantitative inquiries and written with exceptional clarity, this book deserves a wide readership. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students and researchers/faculty. —J. Li, Columbia University

Williams, David. I freed myself: African American self-emancipation in the Civil War era. Cambridge, 2014. 266p index ISBN 9781107016491, $80.00; ISBN 9781107602496 pbk, $27.99; ISBN 9781139898430 ebook, $22.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2014

Williams (Valdosta State Univ.) has written a provocative, authoritative entry into the scholarly debate over African American emancipation in the Civil War era.  He takes issue with those who argue that slavery was ended primarily by national leaders and the political process that culminated in the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.  Rather, he argues, blacks were largely “self-emancipated”—the collective weight of their own actions against the teetering institution of slavery.  In Williams’s telling, emancipation was thus a process of both Northern and Southern African Americans pushing a reluctant class of leaders to frame policies that only partially reflected the actual progress of blacks’ claiming freedom for themselves.  Therefore, the full potential of emancipation was never realized, with white resistance (both implicit and explicit) limiting freedmen’s and freedwomen’s scope of liberty.  Williams’s archival research is prodigious and his argument convincing.  The book renders African Americans active agents, rather than largely passive recipients, in the process of emancipation and is thus a counterpoint to the national emphasis of recent works such as James Oakes’s Freedom National(CH, Jul’13, 50-6375).  A must read for students of the era. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. —K. M. Gannon, Grand View University

Willis, Deborah. Envisioning emancipation: black Americans and the end of slavery, by Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer. Temple, 2013. 223p ISBN 9781439909850, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2013

The authors have assembled and interpreted a treasure trove of historically situated photographs of African Americans from 1850 through the 1930s, organized around the themes of enslavement and emancipation. Willis (photography, NYU) and Krauthamer (history, Univ. of Massachusetts) scoured photographic collections in public and private libraries across the US for unknown images. Their three coauthored essays respectively analyze photographs of African American slaves taken at the behest of slaveholders, scientists, and abolitionists; portraits of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth; photos of Civil War carnage, camp life, and individual soldiers taken by enterprising white photographers; and documentary images of former slaves taken by photographers in the employ of the New Deal administration. Especially noteworthy are photographic representations of blacks after 1865, which disclose how free people wanted to be remembered. The essays exemplify the best practices for interpreting photographs as historical documents–first describing their formal content, then interpreting their meaning with insights from expertly chosen scholarly studies, and lastly speculating about the people in the images. This erudite book deserves a wide audience, not least of all for its beautifully crafted prose, high-quality reproductions, and relatively affordable price. Bravo! Summing Up: Essential. All public and academic levels/libraries. —M. Greenwald, University of Pittsburgh