Thursday, March 26, 2009


Black historian John Hope Franklin died yesterday. The following quote from former slave Frederick Douglass is in order.

"In regard to the colored people, there is always more that is benevolent, I perceive, than just, manifested towards us. What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us... I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! ... And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! ... your interference is doing him positive injury." From Frederick Douglass' speech in Boston, Massachusetts on 26 January 1865
Group of "contrabands" photographed by James F. Gibson at Cumberland Landing, VA during May-August 1862. Photograph from the main eastern theater of war, The Peninsular Campaign. Picture ripped from the Library of Congress

From here on the word 'contraband' as applied to African American slaves: The federal government had a harder time deciding what to do about escaping slaves during the Civil War. Because there was no consistent federal policy regarding fugitives, individual commanders made their own decisions. Some put them to work for the Union forces; others wanted to return them to their owners. Finally, on August 6, 1861, fugitive slaves were declared to be "contraband of war" if their labor had been used to aid the Confederacy in any way. And if found to be contraband, they were declared free.

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