Black Americans and the End of SlaveryDeborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer
The Emancipation Proclamation is one of the most important documents in American history. As we commemorate its 150th anniversary, what do we really know about those who experienced slavery?
In their pioneering book, Envisioning Emancipation, renowned photographic historian Deborah Willis and historian of slavery Barbara Krauthamer have amassed 150 photographs—some never before published—from the antebellum days of the 1850s through the New Deal era of the 1930s. The authors vividly display the seismic impact of emancipation on African Americans born before and after the Proclamation, providing a perspective on freedom and slavery and a way to understand the photos as documents of engagement, action, struggle, and aspiration.
Envisioning Emancipation illustrates what freedom looked like for black Americans in the Civil War era. From photos of the enslaved on plantations and African American soldiers and camp workers in the Union Army to Juneteenth celebrations, slave reunions, and portraits of black families and workers in the American South, the images in this book challenge perceptions of slavery. They show not only what the subjects emphasized about themselves but also the ways Americans of all colors and genders opposed slavery and marked its end.
Filled with powerful images of lives too often ignored or erased from historical records, Envisioning Emancipation provides a new perspective on American culture.
"Envisioning Emancipation offers an illuminating and inspiring look at the men and women who enabled, lived through, and were affected by the landmark event of emancipation. With a stunning collection of photographs accompanied by engaging new scholarship, this book is sure to have a vital and important impact on the way Americans see our nation and ourselves."
—Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of the Studio Museum of Harlem
"Envisioning Emancipation is a rare publication that is both intellectually innovative and emotionally enriching. Willis and Krauthamer have transformed the way scholars will look at abolitionism and the transition from enslavement to freedom by carefully recasting and reassessing black imagery to better understand and explore the intersection of race, gender, propaganda, and identity. The authors remind us that photography was a valuable and effective weapon in the struggle over the future of slavery in America, a weapon that was used, fought over, and manipulated by all involved."
—Lonnie Bunch, is the Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture
"Groundbreaking…Envisioning Emancipation recounts a dynamic history of black self-possession and self-determination, one that challenges the abiding myth of the crusade against slavery and segregation: that of passive black victims who obtained freedom mostly through the benevolence and generosity of their white saviors."
—The New York Times Lens blog
"The authors have assembled and interpreted a treasure trove of historically situated photographs of African Americans from 1850 through the 1930s, organized around the themes of enslavement and emancipation.... Especially noteworthy are photographic representations of blacks after 1865, which disclose how free people wanted to be remembered. The essays exemplify the best practices for interpreting photographs as historical documents--first describing their formal content, then interpreting their meaning with insights from expertly chosen scholarly studies, and lastly speculating about the people in the images. This erudite book deserves a wide audience, not least of all for its beautifully crafted prose, high-quality reproductions, and relatively affordable price. Bravo! Summing Up: Essential."
"A number of recent books have addressed black American lives in the first hundred years of photography but none have offered as many diverse and obscure images as this one. Willis and Krauthamer's text proves that twenty-first-century viewers are still learning from the past and are still on the quest to answer the author's guiding question about freedom.... This book is a must-have for lay readers and scholars across disciplines."
—The Journal of American History
Black Venus 2010Edited by Deborah Willis