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Answering Freedom’s Call: Life After Emancipation


Any social change may become a decisive factor in people’s lives. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 granted rights to people enslaved in seceded areas and created a precedent for the advancement of democratic freedom (Faragher, Buhle, Czitrom, & Armitage, 2016). However, the northern and southern attitudes regarding this process differed. Thus, exploring the way a Union journalist may have presented the stories of three Civil War-era actors, such as a spy and two freed slaves with distinct goals, may help understand the Northern perspective better.

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Historical Context

The reunification of the country following the Civil War was a process that contributed to the widespread realization of their rights by a broad stratum of a previously marginalized population. After the Fifteenth Amendment recognized slaves’ rights to liberty, various transformations of day-to-day life occurred throughout the country (Faragher et al., 2016). However, the Union government utilized Proclamation 95 primarily as a method of disrupting the Confederacy’s line of defense, creating situations wherein slaves received their freedom without any external support structures (Faragher et al., 2016). Therefore, the opinions of white abolitionists and previously enslaved individuals regarding emancipation may differ from each other.

Interview with a White Female Spy Working for the Union

In her interview, an unnamed spy states that the now freed slaves throughout the south of the United States welcome the Fifteenth Amendment as a chance to relinquish their previous social condition officially. Incessantly on the move and privy to various conversations, she recalls the dismal conditions of pre-war slaves and says that “no pen, no book, no time can do justice to slavery’s wrongs, its horrors” (Faragher et al., 2016; “How a black spy infiltrated the confederate white house,” 2018). She finishes her short speech hopefully, saying that now all people may strive for the success of democracy without restrictions.

Interview with a Freed Slave Leaving Her Plantation

A freedwoman interviewed in the south shared her story and shed light on the plans of those African Americans who leave their plantations. She says that following the end of the Civil War, most freed slaves resolved to the act of sharecropping as a way of growing their produce for sale and consumption (Faragher et al., 2016). The First Reconstruction Act and the Fifteenth Amendment define her story as guarantees of her freedoms, as her previous owner may have reclaimed her without them (Behrend, 2016). While sharecropping may be a temporary state of affairs for the African Americans, she hopes one day to own land herself, earning an honest and independent living.

Interview with a Freed Slave Heading North

After the most daring slaves had already fled from injustice, a newly freed man decided to also head north in search of a better life. He says that while the Union’s initiative of the Freedman’s Bureau helped during the Civil War, during times of peace it is necessary to make your living independently, which is impossible in hostile conditions (Faragher et al., 2016). Motivated by fear of the Slaughterhouse cases, which defaulted the intent of the Fourteenth Amendment, this man wants to live in a state without a history of secession, securing his right to liberty (Faragher et al., 2016; “Letter from a Civil War slave to his master, 150 years on,” 2012). His desire for peace and prosperity interlink with an inquisitiveness regarding political processes, as he expresses his desire to help his nation in any way he can.


While journalism may embellish those sides of a story that it seeks to pioneer, truthful sentiments are still present in such interviews. The debasing of southern slave masters by those in the North, who had relinquished the practice only recently, was a tactic that may have continued impulsively after the war’s end. Furthermore, those journals that previously had been loyal to the Union would have stressed the positive aspects of sharecropping and moving North, outlining these experiences as slaves’ attempts at an honest life. Doing so may have had the intent of positioning them on a pedestal of the protestant working ethic, defending their liberty by arguing the usefulness of their self-realization. Thus, while the drafted interviews may be overtly saccharine, they contribute to the spread of positive attitudes towards those recently freed from their previous condition of slavery.


Behrend, J. (2016). Fear of reenslavement: Black political mobilization in response to the waning of reconstruction. In W. A. Link & J. J. Broomall (Eds.), Rethinking American emancipation: Legacies of slavery and the quest for black freedom (pp. 146-166). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

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Faragher, J. M., Buhle, M. J., Czitrom, D., & Armitage, S. H. (2016). Out of many: A history of the American people (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

How a black spy infiltrated the confederate white house. (2018). Web.

Letter from a Civil War slave to his master, 150 years on. (2012). Web.

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