In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

book reviews171 veals what the agency did accomplish as it dealt daily with the consequences of white fear and black expectations. Paul A. Cimbala Fordham University At Freedom's Edge: Black Mobility and the Southern White Questfor Racial Control, 1861-1915. By William Cohen. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991. Pp. xviii, 340. $42.50 cloth; $16.95 paper.) At Freedom's Edge is a carefully crafted examination of race relations in the postbellum South that meticulously details the means by which whites endeavored to control freedmen as the former slaves struggled to secure the benefits of their liberation. But this book is more than a first-rate academic exercise. It is a powerful indictment of the perversity of whites and an understated tribute to the determination and survival of black people. With more than two centuries of slavery to shape and mold their attitudes and assumptions, Southern whites from the Civil War until the early decades of this century sought unrelentingly to exploit the labor and to control the behavior of the black population. Emancipation did little to alter white perceptions about the capacity or willingness of black men and women to work. White Southerners enacted black codes to ensure the continued presence of a menial agricultural labor force. They resorted to terror, violence, and lynching during and after Reconstruction to restore and maintain white supremacy. They employed elaborate subterfuges to evade the Fifteenth Amendment. They thoroughly segregated the races. They established convict lease systems , passed assorted vagrancy laws, created a criminal surety system, and enacted false-pretenses measures aimed at retaining a supply of laborers compelled to comport themselves properly. Whites ultimately succeeded in resurrecting involuntary servitude through a system of peonage that survived into the twentieth century. Yet, Cohen asserts, this withering array of legislation combined with the constant specter of brutality did not make the South one "vast jail," confining several million black inmates. On the contrary, black men and women were consistently able to migrate from and to move around the South in the half century after the war. Black people achieved limited success in curtailing white control in agreements they made as share croppers and tenant farmers. The Freedmen's Bureau served as an occasional employment agency, and it periodically provided transportation to former slaves who moved southwest to Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas where significant labor shortages existed following the war. But black men and women who looked to or journeyed North found that few economic opportunities beckoned until the second decade of the twentieth century. Others, desperate to improve their circumstances, responded to the blandishments of white men recruiting labor for railroads and agriculture. 172CIVIL WAR HISTORY These agents frequently incurred the hostility of local whites determined to preserve their labor force. Still other Southern blacks were swayed by the hopes and dreams (often more ephemeral than real) of exodus to Kansas or migration to Liberia. As splendid as this study is, several troublesome matters intrude. By contending that political and social freedoms were effectively denied through disfranchisement and segregation while the persistent possibility of migration ensured a significant degree of freedom, Cohen has disproportionately emphasized mobility as representative of freedom among Southern blacks. He has created something of a false dichotomy by suggesting that mobility serves as a major element of freedom while the absence of mobility does not. Just how important was (and is) mobility as a full measure of freedom and autonomy? Lacking sufficient and accurate quantifiable data, Cohen cannot fully document the numbers of people who moved, or the precise reasons that impelled a person or family to move at any given time. What do we know of those who showed little or no inclination to migrate? What explains their unwillingness to migrate? Was it self-imposed or not? For example, what of the relatively small numbers of black men and women who by sheer persistence acquired property and/or wealth and thus achieved modest economic standing? Was the possibility of migration important to them as an element of freedom? Did the opportunity to migrate (or did economic status, for that matter) free Southern blacks to vote, to circumvent segregation, or to feel secure when lynch mobs came...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 171-172
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.