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Freedom's Promise: Ex-Slave Families and Citizenship in the Age of Emancipationby Elizabeth Ann Regosin
Synopses & Reviews
Emancipation and the citizenship that followed conferred upon former slaves the right to create family relationships that were sanctioned, recognized, and regulated by the laws that governed the families of all American citizens. Elizabeth Regosin explores what the acquisition of this legal familial status meant to former slaves, personally, socially, and politically.<P>The Civil War pension system offers a fascinating source of documentation for this study of ex-slave families in transition from slavery to freedom. Because the provisions made to compensate eligible Union veterans and surviving family members created a vast bureaucracy-pension officials required and verified extensive proof of qualification — former slaves were obliged to reproduce and represent the inner workings of their familial relationships.<P>Regosin reveals through both their personal histories and pension narratives how former slaves constructed identities as individuals and as family members while they negotiated the boundaries of "family" as defined by the pension system. The stories told by ex-slaves, their witnesses, and the government officials who played a role in the pension process all serve to provide us with a richer understanding of life for newly emancipated African Americans.
"Regosin focuses on pension legislation passed between 1862 and 1890. She examines 100 pension claims from soldiers, widows, mothers, fathers, and children from every state in the South including the border states. Most of the claimants were former slaves, though a few were free blacks. Not only does Regosin explore the pension process from the first application to the final decision, she also explores what it means for formerly enslaved people to become citizens. Her attention to the claims of widows, children, and parents contributes to a better understanding of the black family during a period of great transformation. She has done an excellent job of drawing out the complexities of the transition from slavery to freedom through their personal narratives. As such, this study is a compilation of stories with themes that still resonate in contemporary society: identity, displacement, assimilation, and resistance." Reviewed by Andrew Witmer, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
Book News Annotation:
Rogosin (history, St. Lawrence U.) uses the Civil War pension system as a rich source of documentation for enhanced understanding of how ex-slaves made the transition from slavery to freedom. She uses personal histories and pension narratives to show how former slaves negotiated the system, constructing and communicating their familial relationships for the bureaucracy in order to quality for the Union veteran benefits that were their entitlement.
Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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