By Eelisa Jones
Eric Foner and Joshua Brown wrote their analysis of the years following the Civil War, Forever Free (2006), as an extension of a larger modern effort to unearth the lost perspectives on the U.S. Reconstruction period.
In the text’s forward, Peter O. Almond writes that Foner, Brown, and their colleagues “were compelled by this history because it revealed a little recognized commitment to and embrace of freedom by the nation’s African American population before, during, and in the immediate aftermath of slavery’s demise.”
Foner writes that the impact of the Reconstruction is often overlooked in favor of the Civil War.
While the role of the freed men in the Civil War played a large role in the eventual emancipation of Confederate and eventually all American slaves, the true character of the freed men and women come to its greatest fruition during the three decades following the war’s end.
Despite popular belief, the Civil War did not embrace the abolishment of slavery until Union forces found themselves unable to maintain martial success by using only white soldiers.
Only after years of political pressure from radical Republicans did President Abraham Lincoln order the incorporation of former slaves into the Union army.
The service of former slaves began the official process of integrating African and black Americans into the American political sphere as equals.
Following the war, all African and black Americans, now freed from slavery, sought to establish a position of political and social egalitarianism.
Unfortunately, their efforts were soon overwhelmed by Southern racism and Northern comfort in the prejudiced status quo.
Although one can easily view the Reconstruction as a failure of American society in fulfilling its Constitutional promise of equality for all, it highlights the hopes and dreams of the first freed masses of African and black Americans within the context of a racially segregated and discriminatory nation.
Foner and Brown’s Forever Free provides a chronological description of the major historical elements previous to, during, and after the Reconstruction period.
The text highlights the political careers of several critical historical players who made efforts to establish a just and equal society for all races in the U.S. Among these players were Fredrick Douglas, Thaddeus Stevens, Robert Smalls, and, eventually, President Abraham Lincoln.
Foner brings to the forefront the ongoing struggle of former slaves in their effort to gain the equality promised to them following the reconstruction.
In addition to the seven chapters dedicated to the historical events of surrounding and within the period of Reconstruction, Forever Free features visual essays written by historian Joshua Brown. These essays contain photographs, cartoons, and other visual material that emerged from the 1830s to the 1890s.
Brown provides an in-depth analysis of the U.S.’s evolving manner of depicting of African and black Americans throughout this time period – paying special attention to the imagery used in journalistic works.
The reader sees how racial discrimination and stereotyping influenced popular media’s portrayal of slaves and freedmen and how these trends followed the multiple political upheavals that took place.
Forever Free is an excellent resource of Reconstruction culture and history.
Readers may also want to look into Foner’s Reconstruction: America’s Unfortunate Revolution, 1863-1877.