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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
Topic: FreedomTopic: IdentityTopic: InstitutionsTopic: PoliticsTopic: Forward
Topic: Freedom
Toolbox Overview: The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
Resource Menu: Freedom
Text 1. The Moment of Freedom
Text 2. Booker T. Washington
Text 3. W.E.B. Du Bois
Text 4. Charles W. Chesnutt
Text 5. Citizens
Text 6. Reconstruction
» Reading Guide
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Text 7. Migration
RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
6.  Reconstruction
- Henry Blake, interview, WPA Federal Writers' Project, ca. 1937, excerpt on sharecropping
- Freedmen's Bureau, Georgia, Report of assaults with intent to murder, committed upon freed people . . . , 1868
- Winslow Homer, Visit from the Old Mistress, oil on canvas, 1876
- Thomas Anshutz, The Way They Live, oil on canvas, 1879
- "Long John," work song: lyrics and audioclip

   Thomas Anshutz, The Way They Live
The Way They Live

Reconstruction brought new forms of bondage to southern blacks. Without education or mobility, and lacking capital or any legal tender at all, many found themselves in the no-win never-get-ahead bondage of sharecropping. A more insidious bondage was that of terror, fostered by the Ku Klux Klan whose white members knew their acts would be met with impunity. Two documents here give a first-person look at these developments. The first is a 1930s interview with a former slave whose memories include Klan intimidation and the trap of sharecropping. "Anything that kept you a slave," he remembers, "because [the man] was always right and you were always wrong." The second is a case-by-case report of the terror inflicted on freed people in one region of Georgia over ten months in 1868—a "catalogue of bloody outrages" as described by one reporter. (In 1871, Congress began investigating Klan violence; witness testimony is available online—see supplemental sites on the link page.) Two paintings by white artists that explore the lives of newly freed blacks are included here—The Way They Live by Thomas Anshutz, and another of Winslow Homerís many depictions of African Americans, Visit from the Old Mistress. While studying these paintings, listen to the work song "Long John," especially for its drive to escape bondage of any kind. 12 pages.


Discussion questions
  1. From the evidence given by Henry Blake and the Freedmenís Bureau report, how did blacks attempt to resist white control and exercise power? What were the consequences?
  2. What conclusions can be drawn from the Freedmenís Bureau report? What patterns do you find in the stated causes of the assaults? Which assaults result in arrest or trial? What are the consequences for black complainants? How is the report itself a political document?
  3. How do white artists Thomas Anshutz and Winslow Homer interpret the lives of newly freed blacks in the South? What do you make of the artists' use of color, setting, and definition of space? Consider the figures' placement, stance, and facial expression.
  4. What tensions underlie the seemingly innocuous occurrences in the paintings?
  5. How might Henry Blake, Booker T. Washington, and W. E. B. Du Bois have responded to these white artistsí interpretations?
  6. At the end of Reconstruction in 1877, how might a viewer—northerner, freedman, southerner—have interpreted Forever Free and The First Vote, both produced ten years earlier? How has the image of freedom changed?
  7. How does the postbellum song "Long John" (perhaps based on a prisonerís escape) reflect the resilience and resistance of African Americans in the late 19th century?
  8. Did Reconstruction ultimately promote or retard African Americansí struggle for freedom, respect, and self-respect?

» Link


Topic Framing Questions
  •  What challenges did the newly freed African Americans face immediately after the Civil War?
  •  What did freedom mean to the newly freed?
  •  What resources did recently emancipated African Americans possess as they assumed life as free men and women?
  •  How did African Americans define and exercise power in their first years of freedom?




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