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On Jordan's Banks

On Jordan's Banks: Emancipation and Its Aftermath in the Ohio River Valley

Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 456
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    On Jordan's Banks
    Book Description:

    The story of the Ohio River and its settlements are an integral part of American history, particularly during the country's westward expansion. The vibrant African American communities along the Ohio's banks, however, have rarely been studied in depth. Blacks have lived in the Ohio River Valley since the late eighteenth century, and since the river divided the free labor North and the slave labor South, black communities faced unique challenges.

    InOn Jordan's Banks, Darrel E. Bigham examines the lives of African Americans in the counties along the northern and southern banks of the Ohio River both before and in the years directly following the Civil War. Gleaning material from biographies and primary sources written as early as the 1860s, as well as public records, Bigham separates historical truth from the legends that grew up surrounding these communities.

    The Ohio River may have separated freedom and slavery, but it was not a barrier to the racial prejudice in the region. Bigham compares early black communities on the northern shore with their southern counterparts, noting that many similarities existed despite the fact that the Roebling Suspension Bridge, constructed in 1866 at Cincinnati, was the first bridge to join the shores. Free blacks in the lower Midwest had difficulty finding employment and adequate housing. Education for their children was severely restricted if not completely forbidden, and blacks could neither vote nor testify against whites in court. Indiana and Illinois passed laws to prevent black migrants from settling within their borders, and blacks already living in those states were pressured to leave.

    Despite these challenges, black river communities continued to thrive during slavery, after emancipation, and throughout the Jim Crow era. Families were established despite forced separations and the lack of legally recognized marriages. Blacks were subjected to intimidation and violence on both shores and were denied even the most basic state-supported services. As a result, communities were left to devise their own strategies for preventing homelessness, disease, and unemployment.

    Bigham chronicles the lives of blacks in small river towns and urban centers alike and shows how family, community, and education were central to their development as free citizens. These local histories and life stories are an important part of understanding the evolution of race relations in a critical American region.On Jordan's Banksdocuments the developing patterns of employment, housing, education, and religious and cultural life that would later shape African American communities during the Jim Crow era and well into the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4759-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Rita Kohn

    The Ohio River Valley Series, conceived and published by the University Press of Kentucky, is an ongoing series of books that examine and illuminate the Ohio River and its tributaries, the lands drained by these streams, and the peoples who made this fertile and desirable area their place of residence, of refuge, of commerce and industry, of cultural development, and, ultimately, of engagement with American democracy. In doing this, the series builds upon an earlier project, “Always a River: the Ohio River and the American Experience,” a multifaceted project sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the humanities...

  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-1)
  5. Map: The Ohio River and Surrounding Territories
    (pp. 2-4)
  6. Part One: Before the War

    • 1 Uneasy Slavery in Kentucky along the Ohio
      (pp. 13-32)

      Antebellum Kentucky was rural and agrarian, heavily dependent on the growing of corn and tobacco and the raising of horses and mules. Along the Ohio River, only two counties—Jefferson (Louisville) and Kenton (Covington)—had a large manufacturing base. Jefferson County had 436 factories that employed 7,400. Kenton had 144 employing 1,100.¹ Only five river towns had more than 2,500 residents. Louisville, with 68,000, was by far the largest (see appendix, table 3).

      Slavery was Kentucky’s curse. With little or no cotton production, a mountainous east where slavery was rare, and few crops compatible with slavery, Kentucky shared its extensive,...

    • 2 Incomplete Freedom on the North Shore
      (pp. 33-56)

      The lives of blacks on the free side of the Ohio River were severely restricted, since most whites in the lower Midwest shared the cultural values of Negrophobes across the river.¹ Blacks resided in inferior housing and occupied the lowest rung on the occupational ladder. They could not vote, testify against whites in court, or serve on juries or in the militia. In Illinois and Indiana they could not send their children to public schools, and in Ohio access to public education was limited. Blacks who were not residents of Illinois or Indiana as of midcentury were forbidden by law...

  7. Part Two: The Impact of the Civil War on Blacks

    • 3 Conflict and Remnants of Slavery on the South Shore
      (pp. 59-80)

      Civil war brought mostly unintended change, but the initial goal of preserving the Union was achieved. Although many feared that the Ohio might become the dividing line between the antagonists, Kentucky remained in the Union. Native son Lincoln observed that that achievement outweighed even a divine blessing. The commonwealth contributed between 90,000 and 100,000 men to the Union Army. But Kentucky was a slave state, and 25,000 to 40,000 men served in the rebel army. Most significantly, Kentucky’s slave-owners were ultimately forced to emancipate any slaves who had not already freed themselves. About one-quarter of the state’s men in Union...

    • 4 Blacks and Whites Together and Apart on the North Shore
      (pp. 81-102)

      The Civil War’s consequences for the north shore are not as well known to readers of history as are those for the south. By war’s end, a huge number of black newcomers resided in many counties on the north bank. Leaving agricultural labor behind them, most moved into towns and cities. They created their own institutions and began speaking openly about their place in the American arena. Moreover, blacks and whites got to know each other, often for the first time, and as equals—at least on paper.

      On the eve of the war few counties had appreciable numbers of...

  8. Part Three: The Postwar Years

    • 5 Population and Residential Patterns
      (pp. 105-128)

      The war brought unprecedented change to the former slave states, including loyal Kentucky, as slaves were freed and many ex-slaves moved to new environs. It also had extraordinary impact on the many communities located on the north side of the river. Tables 6–10 help to document the scope of that alteration (see appendix).

      Most of the Bluegrass State’s African Americans in 1860 were slaves, and about one-fifth of them lived in Ohio River counties (table 7). Of that number, one in four resided in Louisville and Jefferson County. Another one-fourth were found in three western Kentucky counties: Daviess, Henderson,...

    • 6 Free and Equal, with Opportunities and Pains
      (pp. 129-154)

      For Ohio River African Americans, mobility was the most immediate consequence of emancipation. Other stages followed: searching for long-lost relatives, establishing legal existence by recording given and family names, legalizing marriages and creating families, finding employment, and participating in public life. In Kentucky, the most pressing challenge was safeguarding loved ones. Right on the heels of that priority came dealing with homelessness, disease, and violence and finding a source of income. Blacks “emerged from the Civil War into an atmosphere of confusion and uncertainty. Poverty-stricken, frequently the object of harassment and violence, without basic state-supported human services, they suffered horribly...

    • 7 Citizenship and Civil Rights after the Fourteenth Amendment
      (pp. 155-176)

      Obtaining freedom was one thing. Securing citizenship was another. In all four states, conventions of black men in the immediate postwar period advocated a constitutional amendment guaranteeing citizenship rights. On paper, the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, did so. The heart of that amendment was “due process” and “equal protection of the laws.” Elimination of racial distinctions, however, “did not insure equality of treatment, and even the enactment of positive guarantees did not put an end to discrimination.”¹

      Black leaders tended to focus on political rights and on education, subjects that are explored in more detail in chapters 8 and...

    • 8 The Progress of Blacks and the Ballot Box
      (pp. 177-200)

      As the memory of emancipation faded among whites living on the north shore of the river, the theme of national reconciliation fused with that of white supremacy. By 1890 few whites retained the ideal of civil equality. Most viewed the war as a time in which whites on both sides had served their respective causes loyally and sacrificially.¹ The restructuring of most whites’ memories of the war made ever more daunting African Americans’ quest for fair play in a time when formal and informal strictures based on race were being created. But black men never lost their right to vote,...

    • 9 Making a Living
      (pp. 201-228)

      The ending of the Civil War transformed labor on both banks of the Ohio. Emancipation offered thousands a chance for a new start. Many blacks moved to cities and towns, although in Kentucky most remained on the land. The larger places—Cincinnati, Evansville, and Louisville—became sprawling, manufacturing-based towns that created new forms of blue- and white-collar employment. That meant little to African Americans, though, because most of them would be mired in the same menial labor and service positions that they had held for decades.¹ Nonetheless, a small number of black men and women created businesses and professions, acquired...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 10 Families and Community Life
      (pp. 229-246)

      During the unsettled times after the Civil War, African Americans sought to create new ways of organizing their lives as well as their relations with whites. Soon the relations between blacks and whites on both shores of the river assumed a form that would prevail well into the twentieth century. African Americans’ major achievement was the creation of a distinctive society and culture. Former slaves could “point with pride to their achievements as a people freed from slavery, if not from racism.”¹ The new order was founded upon family, church, fraternal and benevolent associations, recreation, and schools.

      The most essential...

    • 11 Black Society
      (pp. 247-270)

      After the family, blacks valued the church as the most vital element in their lives. The church provided social as well as spiritual nourishment in a time when racial bigotry prevented blacks from engaging in what we in the twenty-first century consider normal relations among human beings. Closely associated with blacks’ religious institutions were benevolent and fraternal organizations that helped African Americans form a distinctive culture.¹ The establishment of public schools, discussed in chapter 12, was also a noteworthy achievement of postwar black society, and it went along with the development of churches and other social organizations.

      The transition to...

    • 12 Schools for Blacks
      (pp. 271-298)

      Public education was crucial for racial uplift. Post–Civil War conventions of black men stressed that fact even as they called for protection of their civil rights and for the right to vote. White leaders in the four states along the Ohio responded in ways that were often similar. By the mid-1880s even high school education was available for black youth. But schools were segregated and assuredly inferior in quality. Illiteracy remained a major obstacle to racial progress, especially on the south bank. In 1880 the percentages of persons over age ten in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky who could not...

  9. Epilogue: From the 1890s to the Great Depression
    (pp. 299-314)

    Before 1861 relatively few African Americans resided on the north bank of the Ohio, and the large black population on the south bank was mostly enslaved. The Civil War set unanticipated forces in motion. Thousands of men, women, and children moved—from farm to town in Kentucky, and from Kentucky northward. On the north bank, most black newcomers migrated to towns. They encountered large numbers of white people for the first time. For both white and black, the immediate postwar years brought great promise and uncertainty.

    Newly freed blacks did what whites had been doing all along: they created families,...

  10. Appendix: Population Tables
    (pp. 315-330)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 331-402)
  12. Index
    (pp. 403-428)