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date: 15 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Although the narratives written by former slaves after 1865 have attracted relatively few readers, between 1866 and the publication of Up From Slavery in 1901, 54 book-length narratives by formerly enslaved Americans appeared in print in the United States. The large majority of exslave narrators after 1865 were not nationally famous people or even participants in the antislavery movement. No single profession or economic group found the slave narrative more useful to its purposes than did the post-Civil War African American ministry. Many of these ministers also were or became educators, which comprise the second most dominant profession represented in the postwar exslave narrative. Most post-Civil War exslave narrators, especially those who chose the ministry and education as their professions, portray themselves as dedicated less to their own fulfillment in freedom than to their calling and duty as stewards of the welfare of a larger group, identified usually with a church or a school, though occasionally with a community or socioeconomic class. Women entered the ranks of the slave narrative in unprecedented numbers between 1865 and 1900. A handful of working-class men converted the postwar slave narrative into an opportunity to break into print, articulate their experience and goals, and earn some money. Largely self-financed and local in their impact, these working-class narratives portray black men who take pride in their accomplishments in freedom but who are under no illusions about the depth of racial animosity that impedes their upward struggle in the North. Representatives of an embryonic black middle class embraced values and aspirations similar to those of the working-class exslave narrators, though expression of these values and aspirations by evidently middle-class writers often lacked the passion and candor of working-class narrators. The post-Civil War exslave narrator, no matter his or her outlook on the future of the race in freedom, regardless of the degree of his or her personal success, refused to ignore what one called "the wrongs of our race" either before or after slavery. The firm focus on the evil of chattel slavery that in antebellum slave narratives easily crowded out analyses of the pervasiveness of racism in the so-called Free States yielded after 1865 to portrayals of slavery and racism as an intertwined national disease infecting North as well as South after the Civil War.

Keywords: slaves, Southern states, biography, social conditions, nineteenth century, African Americans, autobiography, slaves’ writing, U.S. slavery, African American slave narratives

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