2015 1-4955-0278-3 This book will appeal to a broad audience of professional historians, undergraduates, and local historians interested in African America, Civil War, Antebellum, and Reconstruction History. It examines the impact of the Civil War on free blacks in and around Richmond, VA., by drawing on private, public, court, church, military, and government documents thus offering a unique perspective on the lives of both urban and rural free blacks.
The argument is that free blacks adapted to the reality of living in a slave society by developing communities and alliances in the antebellum years that served to protect and advance their interests. These communities and alliances were predicated on a number of variables including a person’s professional skills, family connections, criminal record, and place of residence. While free blacks were ostensibly pushed toward slave status and membership in a monolithic black community, the reality was that in the Richmond area, internal divisions among blacks, combined with the benefits that came from benevolent despotism granted to individual blacks, made it preferable for free blacks to form networks of alliances based on shared interests rather than unite as one community.
The Civil War rendered these social groups obsolete forcing former antebellum free blacks and slaves to adapt to new conditions. While some free blacks sought to maintain prewar communal relationships based on class, most free blacks recognized the importance of political and community unity as necessary in order to respond effectively to the horrors of Reconstruction.