African Americans and the Civil War

This summer, I am teaching a (two-part) summer workshop for the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition (GLC) at Yale University. The workshop on the Black struggle for freedom and justice brings together teachers from Connecticut (and nearby states) and visiting teachers from Johannesburg, South Africa and Freetown, Sierra Leone. Many of you have asked me to share resources on the session. The topic for the day was ‘The Aftermath of Slavery.’ In the morning, I lectured on African Americans and the Civil War and Blight lectured on Reconstruction in the afternoon. It was a very packed day, covering a lot of terrain but by all accounts, it was a fun and exciting one!

What follows is a list of the books, articles, and films I used for my lecture. I am also including a few key points that I emphasized in lieu of my full lecture notes. And you’ll find the list of readings I assigned for the day. 

Lecture Objectives
  • Discuss the Major Developments Leading Up to the Civil War
  • Describe how the Civil War was a window of opportunity for African Americans to seize their freedom
  • Describe how African Americans contributed to the war effort
  • Examine the war’s impact on the nation
Main Points
  • The Civil War was a “war for freedom”; it opened up a window of opportunity for enslaved men and women to seize their own freedom.*
  • Enslaved people were the “prime movers” in securing their liberty; they did not wait for freedom to arrive.**
Recommended Books and Articles
Assigned Readings for Participants

*See James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, which emphasizes the role that slavery played in the Civil War.

**Ira Berlin argued that “slaves were the prime movers in the emancipation drama.” See Berlin, “Who Freed the Slaves?”