tv The Civil War CSPAN October 12, 2014 11:10am-12:01pm EDT
slaves during reconstruction. she describes the government's attempt to provide a. she compares the debate over poverty relief efforts during reconstruction to some of those today. this is a portion of the 2014 the civil war symposium hosted by the u.s. capital historical society. it is about 45 minutes. >> good morning, again. for those of you who have come late, i am the codirector of the u.s. capital historical society. i am currently the the junior professor of the lsu law school. there is an odd connection to paul ayber because he was one of the judges at nuremburg -- the law school in lsu is named for him. we will talk about the various
aspects of war crimes so it is very interesting connections. our next speaker is carole emberton who is an associate professor of history at the university of buffalo. carole works on the civil war era as does everyone else here. her first book was "beyond redemption: race, violence and the american south." she is currently working on a book that will be titled "a folk history of freedom," dealing with the federal projects, writers' projects and the interviews of former slaves during the depression era.
her paper today is a "hungry belly and freedom: rations, refugees and reconstruction after the civil war." i am delighted to introduce carole emberton. [applause] >> thank you, everyone, for coming to spend a portion of this glorious spring day inside with us. since i am -- it is kind of fortuitous since i am the last speaker before lunch that i will talk a lot about food. let me get started here. there we go. the slaves in winnsboro, south carolina, anticipated the arrival of william t. sherman's troops well before they arrived in mid-february of 1865. they knew the state capital of columbia which was 30 miles to the south was in smoldering ruins. the fleeing residents and retreating confederate soldiers who had surrendered there on february 17 brought word of the conflagration and panic spread like the fire that engulfed the city.
while frightened plantation owners worked desperately to bury the family' silver, to sew jewelry inside their petticoats and to loose their livestock that remained into the woods, slaves watched and waited with more anticipation than dread. we looked for the yankees, like we look now as the angels of the second coming, she recalls. she, who despised the brutal master that whipped her mother and sold away her siblings, believed the blue coats brought the fires of atonement with them. like so many other slaves, she understood the war as divine retribution for all the slave suffering as well as her own liberation.
her expectations of a joyful deliverance were soon dashed. they came one day in february, she remembered, and they took everything off the plantation and burnt the big house, the stables, the barn. they left the slave houses which was more than they left violet guntharp who lived near winnsboro. she recalled, after they ravaged the whole countryside, the army went across the river and left the air full of stink of dead carcasses and the sky black. she also recalled the children sucking their thumbs for want of something to eat. the troops moved on leaving the newly freed to scavenge for
their survival. lots of the children died as did the old folks while the rest of us scoured the woods for hickory nuts, acorns, and artichokes. barnett spencer who had been a slave in alabama concurred of the recollections of war. their compliance always controlled through the physical need of food, slaves were accustomed to hunger, but the union invasion heightened in already meager existence. according to spencer, the yankees starved out more black faces than whites. after they came, it was hard to find either food or shelter since many of the buildings on spencer's plantation, including the slave quarters, had been burned.
many ex slaves died in piles from starvation and disease. hunger left children like spencer with an abstract understanding of freedom that was conditional rather than categorical. according to guntharp, the yankees throwed us in the briar patch and all we had to thank them for was a hungry valley and freedom. belly and freedom. something we had no more used for than that i have today for one of those airplanes i hear flying around up there in the sky. like the airplanes that hovered high above her, emancipation left only the faintest trail in her life. her hungry belly on the other hand grounded her memories in ways that an abstract concept like freedom could not. these testimonies given by ex slaves in the 1930's to the roving bands of interviewers
employed through the federal writers project revealed how the most basic of human needs, the need for physical nourishment tempered the experience of freedom for african-americans across the south. while historians tend to focus on the great booms of formal emancipation, including the granting of national citizenship through the 14th amendment and the right to vote through the 15th, we often avoid the curses that accompanied the wartime expansion of freedom lest we begin to sound too much like the former slave masters whose shrill cries about the degradations and the dissolution of post-emancipation society we have learned to tune out. yet, the problem of hunger posed a very real threat. not only to the lives of vulnerable populations of freedmen and refugees but also to the political reconstruction of the nation. the food crisis facing the
postwar south was both a staggering institutional problem and an ideological conundrum that ignited the federal government's long battle with hunger, a battle that continues to this day. among the many ghosts that the former confederacy in the first two years after the war, hunger shadowed the region with a desperate immediacy. shortly after the surrender, congress authorized the assistant commissioner of the freedmen's bureau to get food and shelter from local army commanders. in south carolina, the bureau distributed rations almost immediately. by midsummer, at least 9000 people had received at least 300,000 rations.
by the end of the year, the number of rations more than doubled reaching an estimated 25,000 people. one year later, it would be nearly one million rations. in 1867, the leanest and the meanest in the postwar years because of crop failures, private and public aid in south carolina would exceed $300,000. similar conditions existed across the south. there were tens of thousands destitute without adequate food, clothing, or shelter. in alabama, and mixture of private and public distributed nearly 4 million rations by the the autumn of 1866, but it
was not nearly enough. according to the bureau's assistant commissioner, these figures did not keep pace with the evidence of suffering. in a report to the secretary of war, he wrote at all considerable towns, we are seeing emaciated persons who had come a long way in quest for food. letters and newspaper statements and personal appeals came in from every corner while men of prominence and known integrity went to solicit contributions in the north to supplement relief afforded by the government. even the governor traveled to st. louis to try to bargain for provisions. in the end, he procured 50,000 bushels of corn and bacon. donations from northern churches and aid societies augmented federal relief, but they could not come close to matching the government's ability to procure, organize and distribute the staggering amount of relief necessary to alleviate the
extreme want in the postwar south. although accounts are incomplete and i have not been able to locate reliable figures for texas, arkansas, missouri, kentucky or indian territories, a very conservative estimate for the number of federal rations issued by the close of 1866 hovers around 20 million. the cost of those provisions conservatively somewhere in the range of at least $2 million. as one historian of the freedmen's bureau concluded, never before in american history had there been such an organized effort towards such a humanitarian end. and the relief was not limited to food. outbreaks of smallpox made it necessary to burn clothing and bedding and supply the affected communities. the approach of winter left many
without warm coats or undergarments. particularly vulnerable to the elements were free people whose masters had traditionally provided them with clothing however limited around christmas time. bitter and burned out, former masters refused to supply their ex-slaves with much of anything even if they agreed to stay on and work as before. the veil of paternalism stripped away the bones of the social relationship between black and white now laid bare. the bureau's agent in south carolina found the behavior of land owners towards the former bondsman to be most appalling. according to one, the freedmen were turned out by their former owners, in whose service they've spent their strengths the shift themselves, and have not the
bureau extended aid, and very many would have inevitably perished on the highways. yet, hunger and want did not discriminate. whites, many of them formerly well-to-do, were reduced to begging from the government they had so recently warred against. the bureau's agent in charleston explained that, " those belonging to the upper classes of society in the city are in actual daily want. the want of capital renders their land worthless and there is no sale for that description of property at present." bureau records make clear that the majority of rations were in fact distributed to white refugees. although initial rules prohibited the distribution of rations to disloyal whites, those restrictions were soon lifted when the depth of the
crisis became clear. by the spring of 1866, bureau theirsioners instructed agents to interpret the term refugee as liberally as possible and not limited to those white unionists that have been driven from their homes by vengeful confederate neighbors. thus, confederate widows and children, along with the most rabid secessionist and even paroled rebel soldiers lined up. one has to wonder if the meals made from the government's flour , pork, and coffee tasted bitter from the aftertaste of secession. or if the blankets the bureaus issued were able to fend off the chill of defeat. if southern whites feared anything more than starvation, it was equality among the races.
they reacted violently to any hint of the former bondsman being raised to their level or vice versa. they were forced to confront their greatest fear in the ration line. according to one bureau official, on issuing day, they saw a white woman of respectability standing side-by-side with the african both awaiting their turn to receive their weekly supply of rations. perhaps this was why the government's postwar relief programs received so much criticism. white southerners who grew increasingly more aggressive in their condemnation of radical reconstruction saw the bureau's ration policies, among its other activities, as encouraging idleness and dependency among free people despite the fact the majority of food relief went to
white refugees. planters argued relief interfered with the labor market making freedmen thus likely to sign labor contracts because they believed the government would support them. they charged the bureau agents of selling rations illegally, adding to the growing perception that the government was corrupt and inefficient. while there may have been some truth to this, the overwhelming evidence from the bureau's papers suggest the rations were distributedifully when available. to white southerners, the bureau was according to one so the newspaper, a gigantic storehouse created for individual ease and comfort of the freedmen who they believed so long as the agency existed when it nothing to do
but to sing and dance and eat the food and wear the clothes that would be provided for them. many democrats in congress as well as moderates within the republican party echoed these charges. president johnson vetoed the 1865 bill extending the bureau's postwar authority because he said it was not consistent with public welfare. johnson further explained that , " pending the war, many refugees and freedmen received support from the government but it was never intended they should henceforth to fed, thed, educated and sheltered by the united states.
" congress packed the bill over the president's opposition but the old bugbear dependency continued to plague efforts to feed the south vulnerable population. perhaps the most effective opposition actually came from within the bureau itself. in june of 1865, one bureau agent, a man named charles sewell called the freed people in his district together -- he said he had to disabuse them of what he called the false and exaggerated ideas of freedom that they seemed to possess in his eyes. here is what he told them -- you are talking too much. you are waiting too much. you are asking for too much. sewell was irritated that free people were demanding shorter workdays as well as provisions of food and clothing as well as shelter and medical care. he warned them that the deprivation and suffering that they were experiencing was inevitable.
freedom might be worse than slavery, at least for a while. he endeavored to explain to them the difference between slavery and freedom as he understood it. he said, you are now free, but you must know the only difference you can feel between slavery and freedom is not that you or your children can be bought or sold. you may have a harder time now that you ever had and it will be the price you pay for your freedom. according to sewell, the line between slavery and freedom was a fine one, indeed. the only thing severing the two conditions was the custom of attaching money to someone's physical body. although they could no longer be bought and sold as property, the
free peoples expectations that they should receive some kind of reprieve from the endless, unpaid work that they had endured as slaves was to him outrageous. he told them, if you get through this year alive, you should be thankful. captain sewell was not alone in his belief that there was a redemptive value in suffering for the free people. fearful that a shortage of labor stemming from former slaves' suspicion of the contract system would endanger agricultural production, many freedmen's bureau agents implemented a variety of coercive policies and -- aimed at reducing dependency on government support and ensuring the freedmen's cooperation. the commissioner ordered his
ts to take steps to eliminate what he says was the false pride that renders some of the refugees more willing to be supported in idleness than to support themselves. according to many of his agents, the distribution of rations engendered this false pride. howard instructed them to reserve the monthly allotment of one bushel of corn and eight pounds of pork for only those who were aged and infirmed and half of that amount to very young orphans, both of home he whom he believed were obviously incapable of self support. in both of those cases, relatives or caretakers could claim rations for those indigent individuals who they were caring for in their homes. all other able-bodied free people were to be denied assistance in the hope of inducing them to sign contracts
and go to work. although some agents protected protested that without rations, starvation was certain, howard assure them that " suffering is preferred to slavery and is to some degree the necessary consequence of events." within a year, howard would halt all rations except for people who were sick in hospitals and children confined to orphan asylum's. asylums. because of suspicions that free people were cheating the system and claiming rations for people who could actually work, family and friends could no longer claim assistance for the elderly and very young living in their homes. you had to now be either in a
hospital or in an orphanage. while howard understood his actions as beneficent and integral to the bureau's larger mission of teaching the former slaves the duties of freedom, it gave them a dubious choice -- work or starve. and starve many of them did. even those who worked found themselves unable to break the vicious cycle of debt and dependency that howard believed could be avoided with enough hard work and determination. one south carolina agent reported a typical case. he knew of 24 freed slaves who contracted to work for the local planter and at the end of the year, their share of the crop came to $543. after deductions for supplies and food they had received in advance of their share coming in, seven of the 24 men received
shares ranging from about $4.50 to a little over eight dollars for a year's work. the other 17 workers ended up owing more than their shares amounted to, from a little under two dollars to over $73 for one of them. that was the power and glory of free labor. cases such as this one compelled howard to set aside additional funds for 1867 for rations despite his earlier admonitions that only those confined to hospitals or orphanages could receive assistance. many agents continued to blame the freedmen for not managing their money well enough or not spending enough time attending their crops to ensure a better harvest.
their hardheadedness that resulted in the idleness and vagrancy and theft that he claimed to witness and was the main cause of half the destitution that existed throughout his district during the year. john w. deforest another south carolina agent who grown tired of freed people's pleas for additional assistance, likewise dismissed their destitution as the inevitable result of their own laziness. he informed the people in his district regular labor is the only thing that will keep you from suffering, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. deforest typifies the ambivalence with which many bureau agents viewed their jobs. reports from the field routinely expressed concern for the freed
people's impoverishment and outrage at the treatment they received at the hands of their former masters. but at the same time, condemnation for what agents perceived as ignorance, laziness and dishonesty. deforest showed particular sympathy for children without proper winter gear and he fought to secure clothing and shoes and blankets from the army for them. however, he felt rations of food were, he said, demoralizing and begrudged anything to those he described as the notoriously idle, the habitual beggars and prostitutes. recalling the chaos that he said erupt on the draw days, days the rations that were
distributed, deforest derided the proper classes who he said made for me like like pigs for an oak tree in autumn. his hostility towards the poor was not uncommon. as chad goldberg notes, traditional poor relief in the antebellum period conflated poverty with deviance and criminality and often assumed a rehabilitative function that could simultaneously be paternalistic and callous. modern efforts to establish a rational system of government sponsored social welfare, of which the bureau was the first, was no less susceptible to the class and racial prejudice of their antebellum predecessors. despite the bureau's attempt to standardize the aid process and a guiding belief that the
organization functioned as a protective force that was indispensable to the south's reconstruction, agents remained suspicious of certain aspects of the government's intervention, particularly its material support of free people. as a matter of general principle, he said he felt it was necessary for him to be merciless towards the few for the good of the many. if only these antiquated notions of dependency were actually antiquated. recent debates in congress over proposed cuts to the supplemental nutrition that assistance program, also known as snap, reveals that american'' struggle to come to terms with the social and political implications of hunger is still ongoing.
u.s. representative stephen fincher of tennessee argued that snap funding should be drastically reduced to the tune of $39 billion because it amounted, in his eyes, to nothing less than thievery. he said the role of citizens, of christians, humanity is to take care of each other not for washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country. he then quoted second thessalonians, the admonition that paul gave that the ones are willing to work shall not eat. nevermind that paul was not referring to taxation or redistribution of wealth. paul's letters was addressed to a group of people that were refusing to work because of theological reasons. they believe the end of time was coming and there is no need to work. his reading was historical but not biblical. combining the argument that
government relief is a form of theft and those that receive aid are categorically lazy and criminal, he channeled the reconstruction era criticisms of food assistance that pilloried attempts to aid the war-torn region and people emerging from a centuries old system of enforced servitude. just as it seemed to escape many of the 19th century opponents of the freedmen's bureau that people can both work and starve, today's critics of government food aid also ignore the reality that many of the households receiving public assistance have at least one adult that works full-time yet they remain on the edge of hunger almost daily. like their reconstruction era counterparts, many of today's critics of snap and other assistant programs cling to a
racialized view of relief that belies the facts. at least as many white people receive government assistance -- actually in the case of snap, more whites than blacks receive food assistance, studies reveal that the typical food aid recipient is black. they also tend to believe that these programs account for a huge portion of the federal budget when it is less than 1%. as donald kinder and cindy hamm wrote, they said mean tested programs like afdc and food stamps are understood by whites to largely benefit shiftless black people. the racialization and perceptions of welfare is reinforced by the news media, which often uses images of black people to illustrate stories of food aid and the like. it is really no wonder that
nevada rancher cliven bundy says african-americans were better off as slaves when they are still picking cotton. as we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the civil war, as we celebrate the destruction of chattel bondage and as we honor the sacrifices of soldiers on battlefields, let us remember the suffering that accompanied freedom and the advent of peace. let us consider the many different ways the war has shaped the nation we have become for better and for worse. the title of today's symposium -- a just and lasting peace -- invokes the idea of justice as articulated by abraham lincoln. however, when it came to the issue of hunger, it seems it could be either just or lasting
but not both. too many government officials believed that it was not only necessary but also just that free people should suffer and starve in order to pay the price of their freedom. in this worldview, freedom was a callous, vindictive force that punished instead of protected unless our nation spiritually malnourished. i would like to in with what is literally a meatier vision of justice than the one posed by lincoln. did it go away? oh, well. it does not matter. one that encompasses the importance of hunger to the lived realities of americans like violet who found that freedom failed to satiate her
hungry belly. it is by chilean poet pablo neruda from his poem "the great tablecloth." let us sit down soon to eat with all those that have not eaten. let us spread great table cloths, put salt in the lakes of the world. set up planetary bakeries, tables with strawberries and snow and a plate like the moon itself from which we all can eat. for now, i ask nothing more than the justice of eating. thank you. [applause] i am happy to take questions. >> how many of the former enslaved persons in the rural areas moved to cities? what were the job opportunities
in the various locations? were there really jobs? >> that is a really good question and i don't know if i have ever seen a reliable count. because i don't think there was any standard effort to really count the number of people moving to cities. although, it certainly was a post-emancipation phenomenon for freed people to move to towns and cities and many of them tried to go there to try to find work. they moved to towns and cities also as a safety measure, as a way to escape some of the persecution that they were beginning to experience by vigilante groups that many in these backcountry areas were known as regulators and they would eventually become the klan. the knights of the white chameleon. you can see during the late
1860's, migration to urban areas because they were safety in numbers. i have not seen reliable counts. as your question suggest, once they reached cities and towns, they often found the conditions less than ideal. they were crowded together, there is not adequate shelters. there were not sufficient jobs or jobs that paid well enough for them to accumulate and save and all the things they wanted to do. it was very tough. there was a lot of migration, people trying to reconstitute families and find people that they lost before the war and during. there was a lot of movement. a lot of the freed people also stayed put. sometimes -- it is an issue of the devil you know versus the devil you don't. right? it was the areas they knew all of their lives.
they were very familiar. their families and friends were still there. so, they make a very calculated decision whether to stay or go. in either case, oftentimes whether they stayed on the plantations in the world rural districts, or they moved to cities, hunger followed them wherever they went because the south was in a poor economic situation. there was a lot of crop failures, outbreaks of disease like smallpox for several years which made it impossible for people to tend the crops and do the things they should to ensure better harvest. there were a lot of things contributing to the hunger and the food shortages in this period. >> thank you. >> let me ask you about migration. when the war ended, there was
concern among white northerners about a possible flood of former slaves into the north which did not happen. the black migration to the north came much later. but there was concern. on the other hand, there was not much thought among the freedmen about moving north. it was a long ways from the deep south to the ohio river and the mason-dixon line. still and all, have you come on any discussions among former slaves of the possibility? there were a few that went up through the underground railroad and very few stayed up north and went up to ontario. >> no, i am not aware of any concerted or collective effort on the parts of freedmen. in the postwar years, there were a lot of conventions and political meetings of freed people and their leaders.
generally, very early on, they address those fears. the white fear that they would flood the north. they were very conscious to sort of reassure folks. this is not what we were planning on doing. this is our home. this is where we lived. we like it here and we want to stay here and we want to be farmers and farm the land that our ancestors who broke their backs literally trying to make good. this is where we want to stay. you mention -- towards the end of reconstruction in the mid-1870's and 1880's where things got pretty bad in the south and the advent of jim crow legislations beginning to service -- surface -- there is an early
migration to kansas and the plains states by groups of freedmen. people in central louisiana were fed up by the violence and political oppressions and headed out on west. it was until later -- the early 20th century -- where we see the migrations to the north. there were some talk sporadically towards the late 1870's or so about migrating back to africa, colonizing in liberia or going to haiti. there was sporadic but not what you would call a widespread agreement that this would be a good thing. >> thank you, professor. thank you for showing the past and the present in the same problem. the lincoln memorial has two murals.
the other side, reconciliation -- i wonder -- i'm really glad you brought up snap and the current politics that are just the same in so many ways. i try to tell so many people. why am i going to these history things? well, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. what is an example of reconciliation that has occurred politically on this food issue that we might learn today? from today? >> to some extent, i think the fear of dependency. the idea that if you give too much assistance, too much charitable assistance or if the government gets into the business of organizing charitable assistance to people that it is a bad thing, that will make people lazy and dependent. it will make them not want to work.
that idea -- it is an old idea, right? it is not one that was born in the civil war, it is much older than that. what i think it comes, it really gets reanimated and percolating because of the way in which emancipation came as an act of war, because of the destruction of the war itself, you have this hunger crisis. as the war is coming to an end. it is going on while congress and americans are debating -- what role are these 4.5 million emancipated people going to play in this country? are they going to be full citizens, the right to vote? what does that mean? those things get collapsed and intertwined together and very complicated. this is a larger argument i was trying to make.
it bears out on the way in which we still talk about certain public policy issues around welfare and food assistance today. you are right. some of the discourses and debates are similar. i think in some ways you can actually see this agreement or this general sort of retreat in the 1860's and doesn't really come back around till the new deal and johnson's war on poverty. this periodic sort of ebb and flow of fear of dependency and the struggle over this idea and what role the government will play in alleviating hunger and poverty is in some ways one of those issues around which at least in the 1860's and 1870's that reconciliation of the two warring regions, the union and
confederacy, were able to sort of ultimately agree upon. the congress votes to defund the freedmen's bureau in 1869. by 1870, the freedmen's bureau is defunct. it is no longer giving out anything. there was a general sense that this was enough, we cannot go any further. it is politically unpopular. there were financial considerations involved because it was quite expensive at the time. i think hunger and dependency were one of the issues at which, at the time, white americans were able to reconcile over. one more? >> your last slide?
>> let me get back to it. here we go. there it is. that is the one i wanted to end with. the children sitting among the ruins in charleston. it is quite a pointed poignant image. it is one of my favorites. you can see that in their little union clothing that presumably some soldiers had given them along the way. >> when did white owned banks start lending money to free blacks? and/or did it take the eventual formation of black-owned banks to start extending business loans to emerging middle class freed blacks?
>> one of the interesting aspects of the freedmen's bureau is there was actually one of their functions which established a freedmen bank. for some time, there was an institutional structure allowing african-americans to take part in the banking industry. unfortunately, when the freedmen's bureau folded, so did the banks and a lot of the money the freedmen's deposited which was lost. it is a really sad story. the other part of your question is something i really don't feel like i can answer very well but my sense is it is something a bit more later in time but it is a really good question but one i cannot answer. all right. thank you very much. [applause] >> you are watching american history tv. 48 hours of american history programming every weekend on c-span3.
follow us on twitter @cspanhistory for information on our programs and to keep up with the latest history news. eastern, at 6:00 p.m. we visit the woodrow wilson house, home to the president and his wife edith after they left the white house. collectionfeatures a of world war i paintings and other artifacts. they help shape public opinion during the three years that america remained neutral in the conflict. it was not until 1917 that the president let us into the war that was supposed to end all wars. that is on american artifacts, a weekly program that takes viewers into archives, museums, and historic sites around the country. next, a class on the rwandan
in 1990 with the invasion from uganda of the rwanda patriotic front. this violence escalated through the early 1990's. there were reprisal killings in rwanda. that brings us to our topic of genocide and the u.s. and international response to the genocide. ok, so we are going to talk tonight about the kind of narrative of the genocide itself. what happened between late 1993 and the middle of 1994. of course, the genocide itself taking place over 100 days between april 6, 1994, and
mid-july, early to mid july of 1994. we do this through a number of books that our students have been exposed to. maybe we should talk about them. so we have samantha power, "a problem from hell," which is an overview of the u.s. response to genocide beginning with armenia and the nazi genocide. chapters on cambodia, rewind up. chapters on cambodia, rwanda. we have also read for tonight, romeo dallaire. his account in the peacekeeping force in the united nation's force in rwanda. for rwanda, excuse me. dallaire, a canadian general, never saw combat from before this time. accepted this command in late 1993. found himself in a maelstrom of epic proportions in 1994 and a