Tag Archives: Reconstruction

A Letter from a Freedman to his Former Master

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 9.05.56 AMI was looking through my Reconstruction Era documents this morning and came across this one – a letter dictated by Tennessee freedman Jourdon Anderson to his former master. I find the candor most fascinating, and the power dynamic renegotiation is unmistakable. Have a look…your comments are welcome.

Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865

To my old Master, Colonel P. H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee.

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson.

I wonder if he ever got the money he demanded….I have my suspicions. At any rate – I discuss folks like Anderson and others who asserted their freedom in my web-course on Reconstruction HERE.

With compliments,

Keith

The Reconstruction Era from Keith Harris History

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 6.07.08 AMAnd……we are good to go!

I am very pleased to announce the launch of the latest in the Keith Harris History web-course series: The Reconstruction Era, 1862-1877. This is a 17-lecture series that covers the political, social, and economic themes of the period. I have supplemented each lecture with a list of key terms and an assortment of downloadable primary sources…so you can read for yourself what the historical actors were saying as you follow along. I designed this course especially for history students (high school/AP and college undergrads) but anyone with an interest in this most contentious and complicated episode of US history will find the course useful and engaging.

I offer this to my on-line crew for a special price HERE.

 

And here’s the cool part: the course is social-friendly. Meaning: at various points I pose analytical questions or topics for discussion and invite students to post their responses to me on Twitter or any other social media platform using the hashtag #harristorian…and voilà – personal instruction from yours truly and discourse with the student community.

An overview…

The Reconstruction Era, 1862-1877

Lecture One – Wartime reconstruction (Part One)Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 6.29.44 AM

Lecture Two – Wartime Reconstruction (Part Two) The Port Royal Experiment, Davis Bend Plantations, Southern Louisiana and the Mississippi Valley

Lecture Three – The Meaning of Freedom

Lecture Four – Presidential Reconstruction

Lecture Five – Congressional Reconstruction (Part One)

Lecture Six – Congressional Reconstruction (Part Two)

Lecture Seven – Impeaching the President

Lecture Eight – The Election of 1868 and the 15th amendment

Lecture Nine – A Republican South

Lecture Ten – The Political Economy of Reconstruction

Lecture Eleven – The Challenge of Enforcement

Lecture Twelve – Violence in the South

Lecture Thirteen – Reconstruction in the North

Lecture Fourteen – Depression and Politics

Lecture Fifteen – The Election of 1876 and the End of Reconstruction

Lecture Sixteen – Redemption

Lecture Seventeen – Popular Culture: Reconstruction and Hollywood – The Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind

Coda: Things to Consider

Take the course…each lecture is between 15 and 18 minutes long and jam-packed with all the goods to help you ace the test, write the paper, or have something interesting to talk about at parties – impress your friends!!

With compliments

Keith

Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar Acceptance Speech

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 7.16.48 AMGreetings all,

As I spend the weekend putting the finishing touches on a web course on the Reconstruction Era, I am reminded of this moving speech by film star Hattie McDaniel, the first black person ever to be awarded the Academy Award. In the course, the final segment engages history and popular culture – in particular the film, Gone With the Wind. I focus on McDaniel’s portrayal of Mammy as well as a few notes on the actress herself. She was a fascinating woman off screen – a outspoken supporter of civil rights, she once lobbied the city of Los Angeles to purchase a home in an exclusive all-white neighborhood. Please take a moment to watch this clip – what does it suggest to you about race, historical memory, and Hollywood in 1940?

With compliments,

Keith

PS – the course will be live the week of January 18, 2016

Racism in Reconstruction Politics

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 4.47.54 PM Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 10.24.11 AMI often show images such as these to my APUSH students when we discuss the racism embedded in Reconstruction Era political discourse. While nearly all white Americans (from both sides of the political spectrum) endorsed what we, from a twenty-first century perspective,  would consider racist assumptions and stereotypes, the conservative Democrats (especially in the former Confederacy)  did so with a particular zeal. This does not seem to surprise my students at all. It makes sense that the people who had fought to preserve slavery would be racists.  What they have trouble with is the notion that white Republicans – those who championed emancipation and eventually equality before the law for all Americans – could just as readily embrace the shared racist proclivities of white America. For example, they might support civil,  but not social equality; suffrage, but not political determinism.

One of the greatest challenges for students is to distance historical actors from neat and tidy categories. Though we have have a tendency to compartmentalize things for the sake of simplification and easy explanation – seldom does history unfold with clean edges. I am working on a web-course right now that will address the complexities of this era – tailored specifically for APUSH and college students. Expect the launch this month….just in time for test prep. See how that works out?

With compliments,

Keith

Ticket Coolness

Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 8.00.12 PM Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 8.00.23 PMScreen Shot 2015-12-26 at 8.00.34 PM

I wonder what the black market price was for these babies. I mean…can you imagine the DC Craig’s List action…had it existed in 1868? I am posting these tickets because they just look cool – and I wish I had one. Maybe one day I can add a legit impeachment ticket to my collection.  At any rate, I have been asking on the usual social media platforms how people would have voted in Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial if they had been in the position to do so. And the majority have gone with the historical verdict – acquittal!

If you really stop to think it over, it’s the only way to go. I mean, sure – Andrew Johnson was a real asshat. But he did not break any laws…any real laws that is. That whole tenure of Office Act thing was a sham. Still – I feel the radicals’ pain on this one, I really do.

With compliments,

Keith