Throughout the long history of American slavery, black people understood their society in the idiom of kinship. African-American families transmitted their culture from the Old World to the New, socialized the young and succored the old, buffered relations between master and slave, and served as an engine of resistance to an oppressive regime. Emancipation at once strengthened and transformed the families of former slaves. As African Americans reconstituted their domestic life on a foundation of freedom, previously hidden beliefs came into full view and familiar usages took on new meaning.
Families and Freedom tells the story of the remaking of the black family during the tumultuous years of the Civil War and early Reconstruction. In the words of former slaves, free blacks, and their contemporaries, it recounts the elation accompanying the reunion of brothers and sisters separated for half a lifetime and the anguished realization that time lost could never be reclaimed; the quiet satisfaction of legitimating a marriage once denied at law and the sadness of discovering that a long-lost spouse had remarried; the pride of establishing an independent household and the pain of being unable to protect it; the hope that freedom would ensure the sanctity of family life and the fear that the new order would betray freedom’s greatest promise. The documents in Families and Freedom provide insight into the most intimate aspects of the transformation of slaves to free people.
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