Presenter: The Alcotts, the Emersons, and many notable and not-so-notable New Englanders remained interested in the uplift of Black [people] in the distant south, well after the ratification of the 14th and 15th amendments - still, there are limits to what this correspondence between north and south friends can tell us.
The women from the Concord Bible Society found John Schuyler Colfax carter and other students worthy of their support, but would they have felt the same way about Black children in their own region? Would the sincerity and ambition they saw in southern Blacks carry over to the Black people that had already been living outside of slavery farther north? Massachusetts had integrated its school more than a decade before the war, but that was not the case for free Black people in Philadelphia and other northern cities who suffered due to inadequate and unequal segregated schools.
Would Concord's well-intentioned, white female reformers have been equally sympathetic to their plight? Would Putnam and holly in Virginia have devoted the same dedication to the uplift of northern Black children? when Putnam publicly called for the significant expansion of 'meaningful civil and political rights for freed people', did she see the connection between the economic and political discrimination of free Black [people] in the north and the former slaves for whom she was advocating in the south?
Would the northern readers of her letters and articles in the National Standard newspaper have done so? Would the plight of 'distant and [seemingly] different' Black [people] in the south have affected northern readers' opinions of the Black people more familiar to them? Were northern free Black [people] the same as recently freed slaves? Did they see themselves as the same, and what did white [people] see when they looked at northern free Black [people] and recently freed slaves?
At this point in my research, when I try to get a sense of what northern Black [people], newly emancipated southern Black [people], and northern white people were thinking, it seems that the northern whites were entirely preoccupied with the newly freed slaves.
They seemed completely unaware and unconcerned with the plight of northern Black people.
They had no sense of the larger reform efforts that needed to be performed both in and outside the south.
So, what made me even want to approach this topic? I teach Civil War and Reconstruction every spring, and when I tell my students about it, I tell them 'the story's not a pretty one', and I don't think my research is gonna be uplifting. I actually think it might be quite depressing.
Because Reconstruction failed, and in failed reconstruction, we can also see the complacency of northern whites; that they, too, for a variety of reasons, gave up on the Reconstruction experiment and on commitment to broader racial justice.
I'd like to dig into the complexity of these issues as they existed in the north, especially among those who had been most committed to racial improvement and equality before and during the war.
We see whites who are well-intentioned and committed to this reform, but their ambitions are tinged with racism. You also see among the movers and shakers within the reform organizations [the Freeman's Aid Society and so forth] people in the north who appear to be of the same mind - they are in lockstep, trying to send more teachers to the south, trying to send more money down there - being part of the same enterprise of uplifting with pure motive.
[Allow me to paraphrase] an interesting piece of [correspondence] I read the other day: "We should be careful about what we impress upon the south, because we're looking like hypocrites - we've gotta be careful with these federal mandates - they're demands that we're not impressing upon northern states."
At this point, there are a ton of northern states that won't enfranchise northern Black people; they're concerned about integrating schools. in response, people would say 'the south screwed up - this is our opportunity to force their hand'.
The Ideologue: "I always found it interesting that the degradation of Blackness walked hand in hand with the definition and growth of our idea of whiteness throughout our country's history. So, i'm wondering [and I know you're not writing a book about modern times, but]: what do you think about the inheritance that present-day white people were bequeathed?
How do you come to terms with that inclination to throw not only distance but disdain on a group of people? Why do you think we're more inclined to work in Haiti or certain African countries than rebuild Detroit, cultivate Compton, reverse gentrification in Harlem and and resuscitate Chicago? To what degree do you think this history of 'distance and disdain' built whiteness and why can't we seem to march to any other drum?
Presenter: It's all about the cause - abolition is an heroic cause - Morality's tied up in it...and it's a change that can actually be performed. Focusing our attention on Haiti has a moral component, but there is something deeply disturbing happening there - human suffering on a level that even Black people in Detroit who are disenfranchised on all levels don't encounter - they are at least still Americans.
We actually might even be able to [with our money, with our volunteerism] relieve some of this real suffering that we see in the news. The media also plays a large role - I'm gonna look at northern newspapers for discussion of racial problems and the problems of Black people in the north. Maybe white papers will have them, but I won't be able to gauge how they affect white readers. I can only do that if I have primary accounts. Who can shine the light on what is key in uncovering this expect the people who decide what gets printed?
Participant: It's an interesting trend: around the time that white New Englanders relinquish 'guardianship' over the Naragansett and the Wampanoag, they begin to gravitate toward the 'exotic Negroes'.
The tenor of the times began to become 'well, the Indians here, we'll give them $15 for their land and worry about those 'exotic' Indians to the west and the poor, wretched Negroes to the south. there's definitely something about Otherness here - it's alright to neglect Detroit; Haiti needs us much more.