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tv   The Civil War African Americans and the Civil War  CSPAN  August 23, 2021 4:27pm-5:11pm EDT

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for competition rules and tips and more information on how to get started visit the website at next, cassandra newby-alexander talks about her new book "standing on the precipice of change virginia's african-american fighters in the civil war". she explains the origins of the term contraband often used for slaves who escaped to the protection of the union army. >> thank you so much. as we reconvene, i wanted to share another thought with you and that is if you are starting to kind of put it together. when we began imagining a people's contest, our exhibition, the core exhibition for the american civil war museum, one of things that the americans shared this narrative
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the way that people lived it, meaning that there would be difficult choices made and sometimes the people would change their mind, and it meant that this is not just a story about the military and not just a story about political action and not just a story about social consequence. people lived it all of those things, every single day for the years of the war. and so, fortunately enough again, the scholars who join us today, i hope that you are beginning to see the connectiveness, because at the end of the day, our work, the museum's work is about helping people have usable history that they can walk into their own worlds with the questions they have and find answers that are meaningful for making choices today.
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now, next up, we have dr. cassandra newby alexandra. most of us in civil war studies we got to absolutely take a deep breath and take a little bit of a vacation of course after dealing with the civil war sesquicentennial in april of 2015 and some of us had been at it for six or seven years at that point, but our next speaker who was certainly among those who deserved a long vacation at the sesquicentennial did not do that. she and her university norfolk state, they hosted a commonwealth of virginia's 2012 virginia sesquicentennial conference and our next speaker's break was this big. she got to work on the next event the 400th verse which john -- event, the 400th anniversary,
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which john koskie tells me is a quatra centennial event, which is the arrival of the african-americans in virginia in english north america, obviously, as well as the first women columnists and the counting of america's oldest surviving representative government n 1619. dr. alexander has been working since 2011 on the making of america programming series, and if you are not familiar with the major commemorative event before last month -- did you catch that -- before last month, you will read about it in conjunction with her other work in other news that just seems to keep coming out of virginia these days. dr. cassandra newby-alexander is the right person to lead the discussion of legacies of 1619, and she earned her ph.d. from
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the college of william and mary and now dean of the college of liberal arts, professor of history and professor of the joseph jenkins center for diaspora studies for african-american studies and she is writing a book about the tidewater ways in virginia and this morning she is going to be speaking of "standing on the precipice of change, african-american fighters in the civil war." ladies and gentlemen, dr. cassandra newby-alexander. [ applause ] >> thank you, christy. i want to thank everybody who as allowed me to lend a little voice to this important
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initiative. being a virginian, i grew up when virginia had a wonderful, and i say that in the most sarcastic way imageable, this wonderful textbook that spoke about slavery as it was a benign, kind, generous institution, in which slaves who were really family members worked five days a week, partied on saturday night, and went to church on sunday. and i kid you not, the texbook actually pretty much said that. so, as the song say, i have seen rivers, in terms of our historical misunderstanding. but i like what john meacham
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said today, that history illuminates, it does not agitate. and so i begin. free month told them when the first began maw to save the union and the way out should be done. but kentucky swore so hard, and old ab had his fierce until every hope was lost but the colored volunteers. so rally boys, rally, let us never mind the past, we had a hard roef road to travel but our day is coming fast. for god is for the right, and we have no need to fear. the union must be saved by the colored volunteer. oh, give us a flag, all free without a slave, we'll fight to defend it as our fathers did so brave. the gallant company a will make
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the rebels dance, and we'll stand by the union if we only have a chance. published in the liberator magazine on june 19th, 1863, this excerpt of the song "give us a flag" was written by an unknown private in the 54th massachusetts regiment, and by the way, the majority of the people who served in the 54th massachusetts regimeny were either themselves from virginia or were the descendents of virginians. so this particular regiment, this song expressed, and this is just an excerpt by the way, and i will not sing it, expressed the sentiments and the passions of many who volunteered in their fight for freedom and the freedom of their people during the civil war. indeed, the civil war was a watershed for american society.
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as visitors will see when you actually go to the american civil war museum and you look in galleries four, five, and six that talk about the struggle for freedom, at what cost was this struggle? and the hardening of the war, that america was, indeed, standing on a precipice of change, a change that would slowly transform society into a multicultural one in which different voices were added to nepolity and to a much more complex world and in which -- and while freedom was the promise of the emancipation proclamation, and the long road to true citizenship would be an ongoing struggle. despite president abraham lincoln's efforts to limit the world to a constitutional fight involving white men only, african-americans, both men and
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women, i might add, seized the opportunity to gain their freedom, however tenuous, beginning with the first salvo fired at it by south carolina with their articles of secession and continuing through the formal organization of the united states colored troops in 1863. and it was a war to fight over the right of another human being, and that it was a fight to treat that person as nothing more than chattel, and it was a fight for the right to exploit that person's labor for personal gain. a month after the war began, black men and women forced the u.s. and the confederate government to change their policies as they used their agency to demand freedom or the
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at the very least protection from the united states government. initially both governments stated unequivocally that this was a white man's war and that black military service was not needed, nor was it wanted. but change would quickly be in the winds. one of the earliest and most important events occurred on may 22nd, 1861, when president abraham lincoln sent major general butler to fort monroe. he found they were conducting -- upon his arrival, he found the confederates were constructing batteries at sole point and pig point to conduct manassas road, and hampton road, and as a quick point, pig point is where the largest naval station in the world is locate and the hampton road is that body of water that
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is perhaps one of the roughest waters along the eastern coast because of all of the rivers pouring out, and the opening of the chesapeake bay leading into atlantic ocean. so it is a super highway, you might think of. so to counter these move, butler decided to extend union control into the hamptons. and newport news areas. one day after his arrival, butler sent a detachment of union soldiers to capture the hampton. the confederates chose to burn part of the village rather than see it occupied. in northern virginia, a contingency of confederate forces to await them. that night, however, three men who were enslaved, sheppard mallory, frank baker and james
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townsend decided to make a daring move. knowing -- by the way, this picture shows you what the hampton roads looks like with this little skiff that these three men got on in the middle of the night, and knowing that of course if they stayed with colonel mallory, that they would be taken far from their families, and so they got on this little ship in the middle of the night with a full moon and rode all of the way across the treacherous hampton roads to fort monroe arriving in the early hours of the morning the next day, on may 24th. the men encountered a reconnaissance group from fort monroe whereupon they requested sanctuary. later that morning, they were brought in front of general
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butler. the general butler could have denied the sanctuary that others had done, but lincoln had not formulated a policy regarding escaped slaves for fear of antagonizing the border states. but butler decided to seize upon an argument that they gave him being an expert in constitutional law, he understood that if he seized these men, and confiscated their bodies, that he could use them for the union army's military purposes as opposed to allowing them to continue to be used by the opposition. and this then would mean a blow to the confederacy by seeing them as contraband of war. later on, butler would show some
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remorse in his memoirs talking about how he hated using that term contraband because it still suggested that they were property. now, since the confederates were already using the african-americans as laborers, butler saw the return of the slaves to their masters as a way of hurting the war effort, and consequently when the owners of the freedom seekers colonel mallory to him claiming the return of his slaves and the height of hypocrisy, and didn't you say that you were part of the united states, and how are you using the law of the united states as your evidence that you deserve, but anyway. butler refused declaring the confiscated slaves as contrabands of war, and further,
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butler made it clear that he would continue to protect and receive all of these negros who came to see him. after butler accepted the three runaway slaves seeking freedom, he was keenly aware that caution was needed. the wrong step in this politically-charged minefield that smacked of abolitionism would ensure his removal as commander, but in for a penny and out for a pound. butler wrote to lincoln, but the president remained silent and watching to see how all of this would play out. on may 31st, 1861, however, the secretary of war edwin stanton approved these independent actions of butler thereby establishing a union policy that affected the course of relationships between african-americans and the united states federal government. congress came in three months later with the first
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confiscation act in august of 1861. but this was not a humanitarian gesture. butler planned to employ all able-bodied african-american men to help union troops in exchange for food and supplies. for enslaved people, butler's goal didn't matter. they had another plan. and their power was in their numbers. word quickly spread and thousands of fugitives fled to fort monroe and many coming from as far away as richmond and north carolina. but even before news of sanctuary at fort monroe reached the areas of african-americans, refugees were actually arriving almost the day after butler's decision. and i liken this not so much to a network of information, but rather this idea of fleeing for sanctuary of an opposing force versus the one that you are
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living in had been a part of american society in the way that african-americans behaved almost from the beginning. because their goals were freedom, and the enemy of my enemy was my friend, then truly, if my enemy is fighting someone else, then that someone else may be friendly to me. on hampton's may 25th evacuation date, aided by fugitive slave labor, it was not far before a stream became a flood. in a may 27th letter to lieutenant winfield scott, butler said that provided sanctuary to the enslaved labor was a necessity for the military because it deprived the south of the enslaved services and
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consequently butler decided to employ all able-bodied african-americans in exchange for food and supplies as the government did not provide relief to runaway slaves. by july 1851, more than 900 contrabands had sought sanctuary within the walls of fort monroe. this is an image publish within "harper's weekly" showing a large group of men, women and children seeking refuge in, within the confines of fort monroe. but fort monroe could not handle these huge numbers of people, because fort monroe was always, always faced with water shortages. if you know anything about fort monroe, you know it is an island, and the island surrounded by saltwater, and so freshwater would be a difficult problem and perennial problem through the 21st century, and so
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they resettled many of the people on the outside of the fort in an area that we called thebus and that area would be called slaptown, because they took the wood from the destroyed buildings and made makeshift houses for themselves. now, in fort monroe, wherever there were union troops present, it would be reflective of areas in the confederacy wherever union troops were present. freedom seekers designated as contrabands of war struggled with finding them a permanent safe haven with most in constant motion because they followed the union troops wherever they went, and wherever they moved throughout the southern region, because, like in fort monroe, they were ejected from the fort, itself. the u.s. government though, they were ill prepared to provide sustenance and support to the thousands of refugees to the
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union lines which is why they had an incredibly high mortality rate. the officials saw the lines in forts as transitional areas from which the freedom-seekers would be resettled. the areas however were resettlement areas would be ill defined and ill supplied. mostly the sole focus was fighting the war and the exigencies of these areas resulted in large numbers of death. in "sick from freedom" historian jim downs highlighted the challenges that many of the civil war refugees faced. he observed that many of those fleeing from slavery to union lines fell within none of the
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recognized categories of war casualties -- gunshots, dysentery, smallpox -- but otherwise, these deserters were exasperated because of lack of medical care and lack of basic needs. many exslaves fleeing toward union lines journeyed for weeks or even months often without adequate resources to survive. and yet some of them not only survived but enlisted. they enlisted not only in the
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army, but also in the navy. now, upon receiving news of butler's actions, the nation came alive with talk of possible emancipation. yet, simply declaring runaway slaves contrabands was just not enough. it was important that a decision be made as to what to do with these formerly enslaved people that were still actually operating in this twilight zone of not enslaved and not free. would they be sent to the north to become part of that society? would they be put to work where they are presently situated? what further responsibility did the government have for the well-being of these individuals? butler opposed sending african-americans northward because he felt they would neither be welcomed nor needed. he suggested instead, that, quote, in virginia there is land enough cultivated and houses
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enough desserted that african-americans could be adequately provided for and, indeed, cared for. although some african-americans felt that this suggested a possible redistribution of redistribution of land, they were actually put to work on what would be designated as government farms. clearly, if blacks thought that butler provided them with land and freedom, they were mistaken. the union government opted then to use these contraband men and women to work in and around forts, such as fort monroe. this picture was included in joseph t. wilson's "black phalanx" and this is the only picture i've found showing inside the fort and this area still exists, has been preserved. it shows the men and women and children working and living at the fort.
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the union government then, as i said, they opted to use these contraband, and they started to compensating them. men and women got very different wages with women getting a fraction of what men got, and men got $10 a month, but then they were not paid directly, and instead, it is in a general fund to be used, and they would take the money for rations and find some way to really not pay the people at all. the most notoriously offensive office handling all of this was the quarter master's office. they were in charge of distributing these provisions. not surprisingly, the blacks complained they were being exploited, and they did not receive anything, and sometimes they did not even receive the rations. even the missionaries laboring among the contrabands and the fort feared that the rations were not always reaching the people.
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one said, i confess my fears that others than the contrabands have received the greater part of them, end quote. under such conditions, it was not always possible to find eager and willing workers. to have disgruntled blacks work at the fort, their new commander, john wool, because they sent butler to get out of trouble in new orleans, and how did that work out? [ laughter ] so john wool decided to begin to drop people from the ration rolls if they refused to work. the intention then was to, quote, drag or force men into government service. since the welfare of their families would actually be at stake. so we wouldn't really see a difference between enslavement and this government policy that was evolving in these critical years. these issues at fort monroe were a foreshadowing of the things to
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come throughout the nation, and for their part, the blacks preferred to fend for themselves and, quote, have no rations if the government would let them. end quote. this was not to be. the policy was that blacks who sought the protection of federal authorities had the choice of either working whatever the union forces deemed appropriate or taking their chances by fleeing northward or possibly starving exactly where they were. while some complained about the abuses they endured at the hands of their quote liberators, many decided to simply leave the fort and seek other conditions. on september 17, 1862, changes in the course of the war came with the battle of antietam. although not a decisive victory as lincoln had hoped prior to the delivery of the emancipation proclamation.
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but it was victory nonetheless. so in february of that year, lincoln delivered this emancipation proclamation, and within a week, this information of the proclamation had spread to all regions of the country. and while many, and mainly the african-americans celebrated the coming of the emancipation, the physical plight was made worse by severe winter that dampened many of their spirits. army recruiters founded that their efforts with the local militia policy were actually hindered throughout the nation, because many blacks actually preferred to get some sort of compensation for their work rather than to be enlisted in the military with an undetermined status. from august 1862 onward, union commanders engaged in enlistment raids and sometimes grabbing people out of their beds and forcing them into service and dragging them away
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from the union camps and ordering them to enlist. now, here is a picture, and let me just send you here of joseph t. wilson that was in his book. and of course, i cannot really conquer what elizabeth said about him, but i did want to say that as he talked about this period of time in his book "the black phalanx," he talked about how african-americans knew that the proclamation knew it would not make them free, as long as they were held by their masters and remained behind confederate lines. their motivation, according to wilson, was to use the union army to protect their promise of freedom until legalized by the end of the war.
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firsthand accounts seemed to bear out wilson's assertions about the attitude of blacks. and most americans were focused on the antislavery aspect of the proclamation, while ignoring the restrictions, excluding places which would be in the emancipation proclamation, opposed to the more legalized document of the preliminary emancipation proclamation. what is interesting though is that by the fall of 1862, african-americans in union-occupied territories as well as in northern territories began to prepare celebrations in anticipation of the issuance of the emancipation. they didn't have to wait long, although, many waited with bated breath. lincoln did indeed issue the emancipation proclamation on
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january 1st, changing the war from a constitutional struggle to a crusade for human liberty. once issued the celebrations commenced with norfolk, virginia, having the largest one recorded in the nation. thousands attended. there were actually 500 black soldiers participating in the parade, and this is described in "harper's weekly." at the tend of the procession in norfolk, the procession concluded with the burning and the burial of jefferson davis in effigy in the nearby cemetery. you can imagine how that went over. [ laughter ] in hampton, according to oral accounts, celebrations centered around this oak tree that virginia tried to kill when it built i-64 and hampton university was able to save it, called emancipation oak.
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this tree was used almost as a classroom by norfolk native named mary peek. an african-american free woman who taught people to read and write and became the first person who was hired by the american missionary association to begin teaching the contrabands at fort monroe. some good did come out of the proclamation, and it improved it the military's treatment of the blacks because they established the department of negro affairs to determine how blacks would be treated. it also instituted the office of machinery, and they established the department of colored troops to recruit african-americans both in northern and southern states into segregated units, but they also recruited african-american men to serve in the navy. recruitment posters were quickly
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circulated calling for the enlistment of black soldiers. interestingly, the emancipation proclamation and the opening of a national enlistment effort of black men was preceded on december 24th, 1862, by a proclamation from jefferson davis in his capacity as president of the confederate states, of america, and his general orders number 111. he said, and i'm just going to give you an excerpt. therefore i, jefferson davis, president of the confederate states of america in name do declare and pronounce said benjamin butler a felon and deserving of capital punishment. i do order that he be no longer considered or treated simply as a public enemy of the confederacy of the united states of america, but as an outlaw and common enemy of mankind and in the event of the capture, the officer in command of the capturing force do cause him to be immediately executed by
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hanging, and i do further order that no commissioned officer of the united states taken captive shall be released on parole before exchange until the said butler shall have met with due punishment for his crimes. now, davis went on, adding, in this proclamation, that all negro slaves captured in arms be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective states to which they belong, to be dealt with according to laws of said states, that the like orders be executed in all cases with respect to all commissioned officers of the united states when found serving in the company with armed slaves and insurrection against the authorities of the different states of this confederacy. translated, davis was encouraging those in the southern states to put together speedily and painfully all blacks who served in the union
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forces the same as slaves who rebelled. following the issuance of the emancipation proclamation, the liberator magazine published an article highlighting davis' proclamation asserting that the confederacy was proposing to meet the policy of emancipation by inaugurating quote wholesale murder of prisoners, end quote. since the african-american troops participated in nearly every battle in 1863 and 1865, the confederates had ample opportunity to carry out davis' threat, and unfortunately many did, as in this example published in "harper's weekly." examples such as the fort pillow massacre and the turning the on black troops by white officers at the battle of the crater suggested that davis' call for wholesale murder of blacks was actually implemented. of the almost 200,000
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african-american troops serving in the union forces, over 68,000 were killed. this means african-americans suffered a casualty rate 40% higher than of white union troops. the higher death rate of black soldiers and reports of wholesale massacres shows that many took davis' call for the murder of any blacks found in union uniform and their white commander officers very seriously. and the white southerners reacted harshly to the organization of african-american units because of their historically intense fear of a slave revolt. consequently the sight of a black man bearing arms produced a blinding hatred of white southerners toward black troops and northern officers. and after the conscription act, also known as the enrollment act of 1863, recruiting agents flocked throughout the country, especially in southern areas, rekrugt every able bodied black
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man they could find. this led the confederate congress to echo jefferson's proclamation in may of 1863. what is interesting is that this is still the time of gentleman's service, and here is a wonderful image that i found from the recruitment office in norfolk, virginia, in which african-americans were actually paid to substitute for white men who did not want to serve. i guess that is better than claiming some physical ailment that you may or may not have. [ laughter ] it is important to know that not all african-american men were recruited in military service, and you had a lot of them who actually wanted simply to protect their family members and they knew that the only way to protect their family members was
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to work and to provide food directly to them, because military service did not always provide that. but there were, while there were some who demonized african-american soldiers, there were others like general david hunter, the commander of the department of the south in a letter to edwin stanton said, quote, i find the colored regiments hardly, temperate, extraordinarily obedient and aptitude very good for military training, and deeply imbued with that religious sentiment, call it fanaticism, which made the soldiers of oliver cromwell invincible. they are imbued with a burning faith that now is the time appointed by god in all of his wise providence for the deliverance of their race, and tunld heroic incitement of this faith, i believe them capable of courage and persistence of
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purpose, which must, in the end, extort both victory and admiration. and there was no one as keen on this as general benjamin butler who, at the end, was given high prize by the african-american men who served in the army of the james. but he said very quickly to his men, your patriotism, fidelity and courage have illustrated the best qualities of manhood. with a bayonet, you have unlocked the gates, opening equality of rights for yourselves and for your race. forever. the effects of the civil war and what it had on the nation and on the african-american community forever changed the direction and vision of those who were and became part of this communal policy. part of the reason for this tremendous change resulted from the direct participation of
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black men and women in the war including the distinguished service by 21 who were awarded the medal of honor, the first recognized would be william carney who is also in the exhibit, who escaped through the underground railroad as williams still discussed in his book "the underground railroad" and eventually enlisted in the 54th massachusetts regiment, but others from virginia, palton beatty, and edward radcliffe, and charles beal and others from virginia all served. the outbreak of the civil war meant the beginning of the end of the institution of slavery and the city and throughout the country and a new economic and political relationship between african-americans and the broader community. it is important to note that with the debut of the museum of the civil war now that it will be revealed that these stories that talk about these individuals and how they really
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stood and how america stood on this precipice of change will be a discussion for generations to come. for african-americans, their journey through the civil war propelled them to want nothing less than full citizenship rights for themselves and for their children. thank you. [ applause ] >> all right. time for the questions and we will take two and then we will go to lunch. i will give you details of the lunch in a moment. questions for dr. alexander. >> thank you. it was great to have you share that.
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how do we remember -- i wish that you would comment on how fort monroe and i'm aware of those who want to develop it and profit, and could you comment on that, because it parallels the struggles of those in richmond and african-americans. >> it is important to review the public spaces. there has been a very long history in america that we erase that part of our history that we don't like in the public spaces and replace it with symbols suggesting power and authority. and so at fort monroe, you know, power and authority can be translated as economic gain, too. and at fort monroe, there is a push-pull. fort monroe is important, because it is where the first africans were brought and landed with the white lion in late august in 1619, and it is also the place where they were first declared contrabands of war and eventually would gain their
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freedom, and so that space is a sacred space that needs to be remembered. it needs to be commemorated and most importantly, they need to lead the charge to changing how we see our history, because we have for so long eliminated not only from the public space, but from the american native those things that we don't want to talk about, and it is time to start talking about it. [ applause ] >> one more question. if not, thank you. [ applause ] ♪ ♪
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while photographs of earlier conflicts exist, the civil war was the first to be extensively documented through this then nascent medium. deborah willis collected these through her exhibit and this book shows how african-americans used photography to document for history their role in the war and to project stori


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