April 3rd, 2009
The lithograph of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre Washington D.C. April 14th 1865 is pretty self explanatory. From left to right: Henry Rathbone (US military officer), Clara Harris (Henry Rathbone’s fiancé), Mary Todd Lincoln (Lincoln’s wife), Abraham Lincoln (US President), and John Wilkes Booth (assassin). This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Division. The publisher is Currier & Ives of New York. The copyright date is 1865. Lincoln’s assassination was the first in presidential US History. Actor John Wilkes booth entered the presidential box at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC and shot President Lincoln. Mind you this is before they had security for the President. Upset with General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Booth sought action that he thought would aid the South. Booth shot him in the back of his head no killing him instantly however. He died the next morning. Booth escaped the theatre before anyone knew what had officially happened. Booth eventually was captured and assassinated. Though Lincoln was recognized as a hero to some to others such as Booth he was a threat.
April 3rd, 2009
This cartoon was a wood engraving by Thomas Nast and appeared in the Harper’s Weekly newspaper on January 24, 1863 on page 56 and 57. The cartoon depicts a nationwide response to Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation of January 1. Emancipation marked the completion of the anti-slavery movement. The drawing contrasts slavery’s past with a fairly optimistic rendition of the future for newly freed slaves. While the left side of the drawing retells many evils of slavery, the right side displays a progressive future in which African Americans become productive, contributing members of society. Campaigning against the evils of slavery, and the Confederate cause overall, Nast displays a brutal whipping, an emotional slave auction, and the frightening hunt for fugitive slaves. The jubilant Columbia character on the right side links emancipation with patriotism. Former slaves are seen being treated with respect by their former masters, collecting pay for their work, and even attending school. At the center of all this is a reunited family representing the end to the forced separation of families due to the interstate slave trade. The cheerful family marks the end of slavery’s hardships across the Union and the beginning of a new era that Nast believes will be one of great progress. The cartoon, as it was half fiction, was an essential tool of propaganda commonly used in newspapers such as Harper’s Weekly to promote the victories of the war and the moral high ground possessed by the Union. The cartoon was meant not only to promote the political agenda of the Lincoln administration, but also weaken the position of the Confederacy and its sympathizers. In the same fashion that the Emancipation Proclamation only initially targeted slaves in Confederate states, the drawing depicts not only the evils of the slavery that was but also the mutual benefit that would come of freedom. By linking emancipation with a greater patriotic duty the need for a Union victory in the Civil War would have much greater popular support.
March 20th, 2009
John Rogers was an American sculptor who made very popular figurines in the latter 19th century. He became popular for his small sculptures, popularly named “Rogers Groups,” which were massed produced in cast plaster. Between 1860 and 1893 Rogers had produced around 85 different patented groups of statues. During that period some twenty five workman in a New York factory made plastered copies of the statues. A total of 80,000 to 100,000 copies of almost 80 Roger Groups were sold across the United States and other countries. Often selling at fifteen dollars a piece, the figurines were affordable to the middle class because he didn’t use bronze or marble. He was inspired by novels, poems, prints, and scenes he saw around him. In the late 19th century if you didn’t have a Roger’s statue then you were not conforming to the times. Abraham Lincoln and Lieutenant Custer even owned a Roger’s statue. The Slave Auction sculpture was made out of painted plaster in 1859. It is now owned by the New York Historical Society. The sculpture shows an African American man and an African American woman with her children being auctioned off as property to potential owners. The woman seems to be desperately holding on to her children for the fear that they might become separated which was common among the selling of slaves. Salves being sold at auction were a common sight to see in the 19th century so it is no surprise that Rogers made this sculpture.
March 20th, 2009
This picture shows a crowd of students, and faculty awaiting the arrival of President William McKinley, Governor Johnston of Alabama, Colonel Foster and Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute. The picture was taken when the President visited the school on December 16, 1898 during a tour of the south after previously visiting Atlanta, Georgia. The photo was included within the first autobiographical volume of the Booker T. Washington Papers.
The anticipation of the President’s visit illustrated the philosophy behind the founding of the Tuskegee Institute. The speech, as recorded by the New York Times, McKinley then delivered illustrated the enduring legacy of the Institute’s history. The course of education offered at the institute was designed to assist former slaves and their children with their integration into freedom as self reliant contributors to industry and society. McKinley noted the “surprising” progress the Institute had made in sowing the “seeds of good citizenship”. By equipping the young students with “Intelligence and industry” they could expect to avoid “the police court or before the Grand Jury or in the work house or the chain gang.” His appraisal of the Tuskegee Institute defines the terms on which it persevered, as a “unique educational experiment” that “exalted the race for which it was established.”
As it was pioneered by Booker T. Washington the Tuskegee Institute exemplified efforts to make black education a means of stimulating black participation in industry. The political brokering that brought Tuskegee into existence was an exercise in education designed to ensure self reliance for ex slaves across the south. Still this movement was viewed as a experiment as formal education had been completely denied to slaves prior to the civil war and even throughout Reconstruction. McKinley’s decision to visit the campus in 1898 was an earmark of their success. Industrial productivity meant jobs for the black workers who were trained at Tuskegee, and profitable employees for the entrepreneurs who employed them. Before the President spoke the Times article mentions the parade of floats representing each of the different departments at the school “by way of contrast, one representing the old way of doing things, the other the new way.”
February 27th, 2009
This sandstone auction block stands on the corner of William Street and Charles Street in downtown Fredericksburg, Va. The inscription below reads:
Auction Block; Fredericksburg’s principal auction site in pre-civil war days for slaves and property. Dedicated by the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation in 1984.
There is no record for an exact date of the stone’s construction. The block likely served many purposes in the town’s history, including use as a stepping stone for passengers coming in and out of their carriages at the corner which once was the site of the Planters Hotel. More importantly the stone was used to present individual slaves to the local crowd while they were auctioned off either for sale, or for annual hire. The block would have been primarily used in the traditions of the interstate slave trade after the closing of the Atlantic slave trade to America in 1808. The auctions would have been a regular event of community life. Newspaper advertisements in the Fredericksburg News indicate the site’s regular use in the sale of Negro slaves as late as February 1862. Later that year Fredericksburg became a center of military action in the civil war with the city itself under Union occupation. As a result evidence of slave auctions, and the use of the block for that purpose, cease after 1862.
While the venue at the corner of William and Charles would have been one of greatly varying emotions and endeavors for the many local population. White entrepreneurs would have waged their fortunes at the expense of black families. By the mid 19th century, with the aforementioned abolition of the Atlantic slave trade, nearly all of the slaves that were auctioned off while standing on this stone would have been born in America and thousands were exported from Virginia to growing plantations further south or the ever expanding western territories. This meant many families being split as properties sold individually to the highest bidder, newlywed couples were forced apart, and children were seen as great commodities to be sold from their mother as soon as they were old enough and strong enough to work. While the outdoor auctions were public affairs, which allowed anyone with enough cash to take part in the bidding, the state government was not uninvolved in the business that took place there. In one specific case, in 1857, a female slave and her five children were scheduled to be sold at auction after the Virginia Supreme Court ruled against their manumission by their late owner. In other instances individual owners would auction their slaves off for seasonal or yearly hire. In John Washington’s Civil War: A Slave Narrative he describes the sight of a slave sale and the subsequent breakup of families as the “first great sorrow” of his life. What would have been a horrific and dehumanizing experience for the thousands of blacks that were auctioned off from that block would have constituted economic opportunity for the white traders selling, plantation owners buying, and other financiers who had a financial stake in this human commerce.
The 20th century plaque which describes the stone as a place for the “sale of slaves and property” reverberates a perspective which was unvoiced during the decades in which those auctions took place, and met great conflict to bring them to an end. From the perspective of those Fredericksburgers who participated in the auctions personally, with the exception of the slaves themselves and only a few others, the plaque would read simply for the “sale of property.”Other stones of similar characteristics remain as a testament to the history the country has traversed as a nation, including in Virginia, Green Hill Plantation and Luray. Though the stone itself was vandalized in 2005 it remains in its original spot as a vivid reminder of America’s entire history.
February 2nd, 2009
The 1853 oil painting by Eyre Crowe called After the Sale: Slaves Going South demonstrates what happens after the slave sales in Richmond, Virginia. The slaves are marched under escort of their new owners across town to the railway station where they went south. The slaves held on to their only possession, a bundle of clothing. This painting was exhibited at the Suffolk Street Gallery in London and is now owned by the Chicago Historical Society.
Eyre Crowe, a British painter was known for his historical paintings. Crowe had a great interst in social realism. He was criticized at the time of his paintings for choosing unappealing subjects and presenting them with such clarity. Crowe’s After the Sale: Slaves Going South was inspired his appalling eye witness account to the Richmond, Virginia slave trade. Richmond, Virginia was the largest slave auction. He did numerous paintings about his experiences with the Richmond slave trade including, Slave Auction at Richmond, Slaves Waiting for Sale, and American Scene.
Eyre Crowe’s work preserved part of America’s shameful, but yet honest history. Though his slavery paintings were frowned upon in his day, today they allow us to visualize first hand the inner workings of slavery.
January 30th, 2009