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I got a few requests for sources on the photo of "Emancipated Slaves" and the accompanying editorial. My apologies for not including that in the original post, it was really sloppy of me.


I wanted to correct that by offering the sources and a little bit more. The sketch above is based off of the original photo. It ran in the January 30, 1864 issue of Harper's Weekly on page 69. The original photo, which I offered, is in the Met's collection. You can view it here. The editorial which I posted also ran in Harper's Weekly, in the same issue, on page 71.

I also wanted to add an accompanying editorial which ran on page 66, referencing the sketch, which helps us understand the aims of the abolitionists and how they used propaganda:

The moment these gentry saw political power pass from their hands they knew that the terrible truth would be told, and annihilate their "institution," and therefore they made their grand and desperate movement to destroy the Government and plunge us all into common ruin. And they are right so far as they anticipated the consequences of a popular knowledge of slavery. The war has brought the people of this country face to face with this unspeakable infamy of slavery. The working-men of the Free States, now soldiers in the field, no longer owe their knowledge of it to what Governor Seymour, or Mr. S. F. B. Morse, or Judge Woodward, or Bishop Hopkins, or any newspaper chooses to say of it to advance a political party; they see the thing itself as Mrs. Kemble describes it, as Mr. Olmsted describes it, as Thomas Jefferson describes it, as John Randolph describes it; they see it, indeed, as no human pen can describe it, exactly as General Butler, so long its apologist through ignorance and party-spirit, found it in New Orleans, and as it is in every State, in every city, on every plantation, a double-handed curse, smiting both slave and master.

 A terrible illustration of this truth of the outrage of all natural human affections we present today in the engravings, from photographs, of slave children upon page 69 of this paper. These are, of course, the offspring of white fathers through two or three generations. They are as white, as intelligent, as docile, as most of our own children. Yet the "chivalry," the "gentlemen" of the Slave States, by the awful logic of the system, doom them all to the fate of swine; and, so far as they can, the parents and brothers of these little ones destroy the light of humanity in their souls. 

Then, lest the "chivalry" that sells its children, and the "gentlemen" who seduce the most friendless and defenseless of women, should withdraw their custom, the St. Lawrence Hotel, in Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, turns the children--flying not for life only, but the girls for their honor, and the boys for their manhood--into the street; upon which they were received and kindly welcomed at the Continental. At a time when, to perpetuate the system which defies the law of God and the instinct of man, the slaveholders are destroying loyal men, noble sons of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania with the rest, the St. Lawrence Hotel strives to propitiate those at the South who do this iniquity, and those at the North who support them in it, by refusing to receive the children whose portraits we give. So every where humanity falls at the touch of this "institution." And so, by God's blessing, the humanity and wisdom of the American People is at this moment touching Slavery to its destruction. Little children like these in the picture this country no longer turns away into untold horrors and despair; but its heart whispers to them, gently, "Suffer little children to come unto me!"

There's a lot in there. The incident at the St. Lawrence Hotel refers to how some of the liberated slave children were originally taken for white and given lodging. When their identity was discovered they were summarily tossed out. I think that incident, as I've written before,  underscores why the notion that a beige America is a some kind of civil rights strategy is naive. Racism creates races where there are none.

I'm also struck by how the abolitionists took this moment to put the horrors of slavery on full display. There is an interesting symmetry between this and how the Civil Rights Movement used propaganda and spectacle to fully expose segregation to a generally indifferent white nation. It's easy to turn away from segregation, in theory, when it's a he said/she said fight over the exact nature of the institution. But when you see police-dogs attacking children, when you see water-hoses unleashed on people for marching, when you see Emmett Till's open casket, and no one prosecuted, the horror is brought home in a specific way. 

I think that was the point of Martin Luther King being arrested in a suit and tie, of using Rosa Parks instead of an unwed mother. It's strategy. The point is to appeal to the cultural norms of the day, to say "even for those who are playing by the rules, this is the law." The photo, and sketch, is an attempt to make the argument on the cultural grounds of those you're trying to persuade. It's a problematic tactic to be sure, but it's generally been very effective.

As an aside, I want to thank those who wrote me asking for sources. Confederate History Month, to me, is about helping to provide a complete picture of the Confederacy. In that vein, it's important to know where I'm pulling this stuff from.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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