Thursday, February 9, 2012
BLACK CIVIL WAR REFUGEES
Attended an interesting lecture tonight at the University of South Carolina by Duke University professor Thavolia Glymph (who I served as a TA my first year at USC) who forcefully noted the glaring omission of scholarly attention given to the humanitarian disaster heaped upon refugee ex-slaves, especially women and children, during the Civil War, largely from gross negligence and racial (and cultural) blindness to the horrors of life in camps, particularly in the western theater. Many thousands of women and children died from malnutrition, disease, and maltreatment; were caught in the middle of fighting and shot to death or recaptured; were attacked by confederate raiders and slaughtered, while large numbers were often reenslaved. As black men were brought into the army or conscripted for manual labor, their women were often forced to deal with relocation and sought safety for themselves and their children, and they were left vulnerable both to the enemy and deprivations by the Union forces with whom they sought sanctuary. While many at the time criticized refugees who reported on these events as being crazy and untruthful, black freedpersons were well aware of the possibilities of death and reenslavement. Even the abolitionist and black press failed to highlight their plight, preferring instead to concentrate on the exploits of black troops (a trend carried on with movies such as Glory). Hundreds of thoudands of books have concentrated on military aspects of the conflict, and historians have spilled much ink on the plight of slaveholding women, but they have almost totally ignored black refugees, despite a wealth of information in official reports, letters, and other sources that have been openly used by scholars for years. Dr. Glymph, despite experiencing personal tragedy this week, soldiered on and delivered an inspiring talk, that should marshall many graduate students to uncover this and other hidden aspects of African American life during the war and reconstruction. I look forward to reading her book. I would love to be working with her on this subject right now, it sounds like a wonderful dissertation topic. I wonder too if any work has been done on ex-slaves who may have been kidnapped and sold southward to countries that kept the institution beyond emancipation on our shores. It was great to see her and chat, and show off my boys (who actually stayed and listened to the lecture, and were well behaved), and I hope the African American Studies program can continue to bring in noted scholars for their research grants as well as talks to students and the public (not just during this month). It was also nice to actually chat with Professors Donaldson and Littlefield, as well as several graduate students. I was a little surprised there were not a few more history professors in attendance.