Honoring Juneteenth

This week in North Philly Notes, we honor Juneteenth with a look at Beverly Tomek’s Slavery and Abolition in Pennsylvania, and other African American titles.

Slavery and Abolition in Pennsylvania by Beverly C. Tomek, tells the complex story of the role of slavery in the founding and growth of the Commonwealth. 

Tomek corrects the long-held notion that slavery in the North was “not so bad” as, or somehow “more humane” than, in the South due to the presence of abolitionists. The book begins with the story of slavery in colonial Pennsylvania and then traces efforts to end human bondage in the state. It then explores the efforts of Pennsylvania reformers to reconstruct the state in a way that would make room for the newly freed persons. Finally, it traces Pennsylvania’s role in the national antislavery movement, debunking the myth that Pennsylvania faded into the background in the 1830s as Massachusetts abolitionists took center stage. The story Tomek offers is one of a state that was built upon enslaved labor but had a large enough reform community to challenge that system within the state’s borders by passing the nation’s first abolition law and then to try to spread antislavery throughout the country.  

Slavery and Abolition in Pennsylvania traces this movement from its beginning to the years immediately following the American Civil War. Discussions of the complexities of the state’s antislavery movement illustrate how different groups of Pennsylvanians followed different paths in an effort to achieve their goal. Tomek also examines the backlash abolitionists and Black Americans faced. In addition, she considers the civil rights movement from the period of state reconstruction through the national reconstruction that occurred after the Civil War, and she concludes by analyzing what Pennsylvania’s history of race relations means for the state today. 

While the past few decades have shed light on enslavement and slavery in the South, much of the story of northern slavery remains hidden. Slavery and Abolition in Pennsylvania tells the full and inclusive story of this history, bringing the realities of slavery, abolition, and Pennsylvania’s attempt to reconstruct its post-emancipation society. 

Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery, by Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer, illustrates what freedom looked like for black Americans in the Civil War era
Winner of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work—Non-Fiction, 2014
One of the Top 25 Outstanding Academic Titles, Choice, 2013

In their pioneering book, Envisioning Emancipation, renowned photographic historian Deborah Willis and historian of slavery Barbara Krauthamer have amassed 150 photographs—some never before published—from the antebellum days of the 1850s through the New Deal era of the 1930s. The authors vividly display the seismic impact of emancipation on African Americans born before and after the Proclamation, providing a perspective on freedom and slavery and a way to understand the photos as documents of engagement, action, struggle, and aspiration.

Upon the Ruins of Liberty: Slavery, the President’s House at Independence National Historical Park, and Public Memory, by Roger C. Aden, provides a behind-the-scenes look at the development of the memorial to slavery in Independence Mall.

Upon the Ruins of Liberty chronicles the politically charged efforts to create a fitting tribute to the place where George Washington (and later John Adams) shaped the presidency as he denied freedom to the nine enslaved Africans in his household. From design to execution, the plans prompted advocates to embrace stories informed by race and address such difficulties as how to handle the results of the site excavation. Consequently, this landmark project raised concerns and provided lessons about the role of public memory in shaping the nation’s identity.


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