Dying Free: African Americans, Death, and the New Birth of Freedom, 1863-1877

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This dissertation explores the ways in which African Americans in the South used death to stake claims to citizenship and equality in the years following emancipation. The death and destruction the Civil War wrought did not end at Appomattox Courthouse. After the war, freedpeople in the South continued to die from disease, starvation, and exposure and former bondspeople became the targets of racial violence by white Southerners. By recasting emancipation as a struggle for power over life and death, “Dying Free” provides a new framework for examining the fraught power relations between former masters, ex-slaves, and the federal government in the postwar South. This dissertation asserts that African Americans used the murders of their loved ones and community members as opportunities to protest the injustices they faced as they tried to forge new lives in freedom. By harnessing the power of the dead in a variety of arenas, freedpeople strengthened their bonds with relatives and communities, denounced their unjust treatment at the hands of white Southerners, and demanded equality and the rights of citizenship from the federal government.