Role of Southern Free Blacks During the Civil War Era: The Life of Free African Americans in Richmond, Virginia 1850-1876

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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.


“Carey Latimore provides the reader with well researched, valuable, and insightful new pieces of the overall puzzle of the lives of free African Americans by focusing on those in the Richmond, Virginia, during the mid-nineteenth century… Latimore blends well researched biographical case studies of numerous key individuals with the issues and events of the times. In so doing, he achieves what historian Barbara Tuchman called the universal in the particular.”
-Allan O. Kownslar,
Professor of American History,
Trinity University

“This work breaks new ground by taking a novel approach to history…[it] provides a new inquiry by focusing on a specific historical point in Richmond, VA. There is not much research on Richmond, VA… The research provides a strong historical background on slavery, post-slavery, post war and its effect on African Americans.”
-Dr. D. Anthony Miles,
Our Land of the Lake University

Table of Contents

Foreword by Allan O. Kownslar
Introduction: Race and Freedom in Richmond, Virginia
1. A World in Transition: Freedom and Slavery in the Richmond Area
2. Using and Defying Society: Free African Americans Establish an Antebellum Community
3. Social Control and Residency in Richmond, 1850-1860
4. Crime, Underground Networks, and Abuse, Free-black Life in Civil War Richmond
5. “All That Is Needed Now Is the Auction Block as It Used to Be”: Richmond during Reconstruction
6. Free African Americans Community Transitions 1865-1877

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