Black History Reading (7)

Pushing forwards with Nell Painter’s 2007 title Creating Black Americans: African-American History and its Meanings, 1619 to the Present, she opens the chapter with a painting of the Harlem Renaissance by Aaron Douglas.

Buffalo Soldiers of the 25th Infantry, Ft. Keogh, Montana. (Wikimedia Commons)

I can’t include an image of the painting here due to copyright restrictions, but the painting shows an African American community building up their lives while all sort of opposition (ie KKK, Native Americans, Chinamen, etc) are making their lives much more difficult. But in the center of all this difficulty, there is a growing community that is solid, loyal, and strong. The community grows as a leader stands strong, guiding his people and instructing them what to do next. This, I believe, represents the African American plight during “The Larger Reconstruction, 1864-1895,” for which this chapter is titled. “Although Reconstruction began a few years of optimistic promise,” however writes Painter, “the promises remained largely infilled” (141).

Under the section of “Making Freedom Real” of chapter 7, there was a strikingly interesting part called “Reuniting Families and Finding Work.” This was particularly interesting to me. I thought the fact that freedmen and freedwomen were seeking each other out in order to reunite in love had a very beautiful symbolic meaning. Through years of torturous conditions slaves had to endure, the worst of all, perhaps, not being your own person, they still sought to reunite. Sort of like a redemptive feeling. Building off of one another to create a beautiful frame of mind.

People questioned whether or not they would “work.” They did, of course, use work in a different meaning from the word. Others expected blacks to contribute to the economy in the sense of the word. Instead, Africans built themselves up and made tight-knit communities where, instead of supporting the economy, they supported themselves and worked that way: Growing crops, building houses, and provided food for members of the black community.

Another question addressed was the need for education. Shorty after the Emancipation, education became an important endeavour. There were a number of institutions and people Painter points out to us that provided a variety of educational programs: Union Armed Forces, Northern free blacks, the Freedmen’s Bureau, black churches, white churches, and their own self determination to seek out literacy. Without their desire of drive to learn, the best institutions in the world could not have helped them become educated.

Freedpeople’s Churches were another factor which was on the rise shortly after  Emancipation. And thousands of locally established Christian churches were founded, stemming from Methodism, Baptist congregations, and all sorts of other Protestant denominations which all varied widely in doctrine and practice (even within denominations). One example Painter provides is from Bishop Daniel Payne (1811-1893) and Reverend Henry McNeal Turner (1834-1915). Payne favored an educated ministry while Turner welcomed preachers from any educational background. In Turner’s sense, anyone could preach the Gospel and teach others regardless of credentials.

Land ownership became one of the greatest priorities to the African American Struggle. How could Africans expect to care for their communities if they had no place to build their towns and keep safe their kin. Special Field Orders No. 15 allowed Freedfamilies to become eligible for forty acres of land and a mule. The land came from Confederates who abandoned their land and had it confiscated from them. Freedfamilies, however, were unable to acquire land because President Johnson restored confiscated and abandoned land to the Confederates.

Freedpeople did not easily give back the land to their Confederate neighbors, for they had worked hard to maintain it and improve it and even built houses on the land. In 1910, 2/3rds of black people were landless.

I was surprised to find out the meaning of the title “Buffalo Soldier,” from whom I recall Bob Marley singing so much about. According to Painter, Buffalo soldier was a title given to African American men who protected railroad workers and migrating settlers from Native American attacks.

Personal Connection with the Text

Personally, I believe that freedom and liberty are some of the main functioning things that give men their dignity. Without freedom, where do we stand? Do we stand with our own values and moral system or do we adhere to the dictatorship of an oppressor? Certainly, there are some grey areas. But it is evident that the slaves of the United States have felt a generous amount of oppression from years of persecution and persecution to be.

(This wasn’t finished, but it adds up to 756 words)



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