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13 - African Americans, Africa, and the Long Watch Night for Freedom

from Part II - Worlds Made and Remade

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 August 2022

Kathleen Diffley
Affiliation:
University of Iowa
Coleman Hutchison
Affiliation:
University of Texas, Austin
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Summary

Watch Night began when enslaved and free African Americans kept vigil, to sing and pray, on December 31, 1862, as they awaited news in the morning of the Emancipation Proclamation. Their optimism gave way to the nominal freedoms and rights of citizenship that African American families and communities experienced in the wake of emancipation and during Reconstruction. African American writers of these decades introduce descriptions of African landscapes, customs, values, and histories as metaphors for the uncertain status and tentative futures their people confronted after the Civil War and during Reconstruction. They associate the African continent with a variety of meanings: the brutal history of slavery; the erasure or dismissal of influential cultures and intellects; a persistent legacy of resistance to oppression and rebellion against bondage; the fugitive status of African Americans in their own country and as exiles abroad; and the precarity of racial progress even as Black schools, churches, and other self-sufficient institutions are established by formerly enslaved Black southern communities.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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