Black Liberation in Kentucky

Black Liberation in Kentucky: Emancipation and Freedom, 1862-1884

Victor B. Howard
Copyright Date: 1983
Edition: 1
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jrs3
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Black Liberation in Kentucky
    Book Description:

    Kentucky occupied an unusual position with regard to slavery during the Civil War as well as after. Since the state never seceded, the emancipation proclamation did not free the majority of Kentucky's slaves; in fact, Kentucky and Delaware were the only two states where legal slavery still existed when the thirteenth amendment was adopted by Congress. Despite its unique position, no historian before has attempted to tell the experience of blacks in the Commonwealth during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

    Victor B. Howard'sBlack Liberation in Kentuckyfills this void in the history of slavery and emancipation. In doing so, however, he does not just chronicle the experiences of black Kentucky, because as he notes in his introduction, "such a work would distort the past as much as a book concerned solely with white people." Beginning with an overview of the situation before the war, Howard examines reactions to the emancipation proclamation and how the writ was executed in Kentucky. He also explores the role the army played, both during the war as freed black enlisted and after the war as former slaves transitioned to freedom.

    The situation for former slaves in Kentucky was just as precarious as in other southern states, and Howard documents the challenges they faced from keeping families together to finding work. He also documents the early fights for civil rights in the state, detailing battles over the right to testify in court, black suffrage, and access to education. AsBlack Liberation in Kentuckyshows, Kentucky's slaves fought for their freedom and rights from the beginning, refusing to continue in bondage and proving themselves accomplished actors destined to play a critical role in Civil War and Reconstruction.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5071-0
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-2)

    NO HISTORIAN to date has attempted to record the experience of blacks in Kentucky during the Civil War and Reconstruction, with the result that society has never been depicted as it really existed in the state at that time. In trying to correct this flaw, I have sought to write not an exclusively black chronicle, because such a work would distort the past as much as a book concerned solely with white people, but rather an integrated history. I have, in other words, tried to tell the story ofallthe people of Kentucky during the Civil War and Readjustment....

  5. CHAPTER ONE Kentucky Responds to War
    (pp. 3-11)

    JOHN BROWN’S RAID on Harpers Ferry in 1859 called into question the ability of the South to prevent a slave revolt and so helped push the region into civil war. Many Southerners believed they were “living above a loaded mine in which the negro slaves were the powder, the abolitionists the spark, and the free negroes the fuse.”¹ As a border state, Kentucky was even more agitated by the fear of abolitionist-led slave uprisings than were the Gulf states, and the Republican victory in the national election of 1860 aroused new anxieties. Regardless of the state’s ultimate position in the...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Army and the Slave
    (pp. 12-28)

    AS THE REGIMENTS from the Midwest moved into Kentucky in the autumn of 1861, the army had little contact with the institution of slavery. Under the threat of severe punishment the men and officers were instructed not to tamper with the slaves.¹ The owners frowned on any effort of the soldiers to converse with the slaves, and the masters warned their slaves to stay away from the army camp. The Thirty-fifth Ohio Infantry had hardly settled into the first camp in Kentucky in September 1861 when orders went out to the officers to send their free black servants back to...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Emancipation
    (pp. 29-44)

    RADICALISM WAS GROWING in the North and in Congress. As early as November 1861, George Bancroft, while chairing a meeting to aid loyalists from North Carolina, stated: “If slavery and the Union are incompatible, listen to the words that come to you from the tomb of Andrew Jackson: ‘The Union must be preserved at all hazards.’” he sent Lincoln a copy of the resolutions of the meeting along with a letter in which he revealed his sentiments on slavery. “Civil War is the instrument of Divine Providence to root out social slavery,” he wrote; “posterity will not be satisfied with...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Military Enrollment
    (pp. 45-55)

    THE GENERAL MILITIA ACT and the Second Confiscation Act passed by Congress in July 1862 had authorized the president to recruit black soldiers, but Lincoln did not immediately use the provisions of these acts, and blacks were seized to assist on public works before a procedure evolved for receiving them into the service. The Militia Act provided for the enrollment of all able-bodied male citizens between the ages of twenty and forty-five “for the purpose of constructing entrenchments, or performing camp service, or any other labor, or any military or naval service for which they may be found competent.” The...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Slaves Go to War
    (pp. 56-71)

    FROM THE BEGINNING of the war, Lincoln had felt that Kentucky would be a “turning weight in the scale,”¹ and particularly since the federal government did not have great military strength in the state, he was inclined to respect the wishes of Kentuckians regarding the enlistment of blacks. Slaves were subject to the draft in all other states, however, and there was much opposition in antislavery circles to the special treatment given Kentucky. The antislavery newspapers bitterly denounced Lincoln for his forbearance. When Congress met in December 1863, several radical senators led by Henry Wilson of Massachusetts refused to accept...

  10. CHAPTER SIX From Soldier to Freedman
    (pp. 72-90)

    AFTER THE UNION victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg in July 1863, attention was focused on the question of reconstruction. The most persistent topic of public discussion was the place of blacks in postwar society. Northern public opinion accepted the Emancipation Proclamation as permanently establishing the status of blacks as free men, and the proclamation recognized the right of emancipated slaves to defend their freedom. By the end of 1863, as we have seen, the policy of the army had been enlarged to include the arming of slaves as a necessary part of the program to increase the military strength of...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Search for Work
    (pp. 91-107)

    SLAVERY HAD EXISTED as a viable institution to a large extent because the slave did not have freedom of movement, did not receive wages for his work, and could be subjected to corporal punishment at the will of the master. By December 1862, the Kentucky slaves were moving about in such numbers that it was almost impossible to exercise any control over them. A correspondent for theBoston Journalreported in December 1862 that the masters in parts of Kentucky had been “compelled to cease flogging, for it is very easy for slaves to run away now, and not easy...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Families in Transition
    (pp. 108-129)

    THROUGHOUT THE ANTEBELLUM period when society was swept with great excitement, slaves in Kentucky often fled from servitude in family groups. As a result of the great commotion brought on by the Mexican War, and the debates concerning the proposals for a plan for gradual emancipation in Kentucky in 1849, so many slave families left their owners that the phenomenon attracted much public discussion. Fugitives also took to the roads during the period that followed John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry and during the early months of the Civil War. These episodes foreshadowed events after the adoption of the Emancipation...

  13. CHAPTER NINE The Testimony Question
    (pp. 130-145)

    REGARDLESS OF ANY ameliorating factors, blacks in the antebellum South were reduced to a helpless position by the denial of all civil rights. In his studyThe Peculiar Institution, Kenneth Stampp explained that the Negro was at the mercy of white society because he could not testify against whites. A second major problem that kept blacks exposed to the whims of the moment was the reluctance of white witnesses to testify against white offenders. The third reason for the Negro’s vulnerability was the reluctance of the white jury to convict a white man of a crime against a black.¹

    When...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Black Suffrage
    (pp. 146-159)

    WITH THE RATIFICATION of the Thirteenth Amendment by three-fourths of the states, it was natural for the blacks to expect freedom to give them all the privileges and immunities of white citizens, particularly universal white male suffrage. Even before slavery was legally abolished in Kentucky, an organized movement had developed among the Negroes and their supporters to abolish all the incidental restrictions which antebellum society had imposed upon slaves and freedmen. Meeting in Louisville in June 1865, a convention of blacks sent a delegation “on a mission of liberty” to Washington to call the president’s attention to the laws and...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN Equal Education?
    (pp. 160-176)

    ON MARCH 16, 1863, Secretary of War Stanton appointed the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission “to investigate the condition of the colored population … and to report what measures will best contribute to their protection and improvement, so that they may defend and support themselves.” The representatives of the commission traveled extensively along the eastern seaboard before preparing their report. Their most striking observation was the interest of the contraband in education. The commission was much impressed with the high value that the refugees placed on schooling for their children and on religious instruction for themselves. Wherever the representatives went, they...

  16. Epilogue
    (pp. 177-179)

    THE NEGROES were enabled to secure their rights under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments by the consistent support of the Republican party of Kentucky, which gave them a channel of communication with the federal administration in Washington. The Democratic party was divided on critical issues, and sometimes the split offered an opportunity for dialogue within the dominant party even though the majority considered the Negro question as settled after the enactment of the legislation of 1866. The conservative Democrats, who were completely in control by 1867, were unwilling to concede anything to the blacks except that slavery was no longer...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 180-210)
  18. Manuscript Sources and Government Documents
    (pp. 211-214)
  19. Index
    (pp. 215-222)