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A sequel to Free at Last draws on the letters and personal testimony of freed slaves to describe the remaking of the African-American family during the Civil War and Reconstruction era, discussing the reunion of separated families, the legitimization of marriage, and the building of a new way of life.
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Ira Berlin and Leslie S. Rowland, editors of Free at Last (The New Press), teach history at the University of Maryland. They are former and present directors, respectively, of the Freedmen and Southern Society Project, which is compiling a multivolume documentary history of the transition from slavery to freedom.
Berlin and Rowland, editors of the prize-winning collection Free at Last, have come up with another moving documentary history, this one focusing on black family life in the Civil War era. Told mostly from the perspectives of black soldiers and their families, these poignant letters show the devotion and love that existed among African-American relatives despite all efforts to destroy slave families. Slaves were usually discouraged by their masters from forming familial relationships--they were split up regularly when relatives were sold; there was no official recognition of slave marriages--yet many slaves managed to nurture close families. During the Civil War, these relationships were sorely tested, as families were again separated, women and children left, even after liberation, among their embittered former owners. Yet it is hard to say who was more destructive of the black family during the war--the North or the South. The federal government was shameful in its treatment of black soldiers fighting for the Union: Letters here attest to the fact that they were often forcefully conscripted and received less than half the pay of their white counterparts. Their families receieved little or none of the promised assistance, and the soldiers were denied furlough or required to pay dearly for it, even when the war was over. As one ``umble soldier'' who could not get leave wrote to the secretary of war to beg permission to visit his family: ``In August I lost two of my children. I asked for a leaf [sic] of absence and was refused. . . . Now the war is over and I now want to see those who are dearer to me than my life.'' A revealing history about the precarious state of black families during and after the Civil War. (36 b&w illustrations) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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