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Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery Paperback – 11 Jun 2015

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; Vintage Books ed edition (11 Jun. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394743989
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394743981
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 3.6 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 975,545 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


" Litwack displays a keen sense of the revealing expression and incident; a controlled passion against injustice and cruelty; and a grasp--not always in evidence these days--of the elements of genuine tragedy in the black-white confrontation that has shaped southern history." --Eugene Genovese, "The New York Times Book Review"
" As a comprehensive study of the coming of freedom, Litwack's book has no rival." --C. Vann Woodward, "The New York Review of Books"

"Litwack displays a keen sense of the revealing expression and incident; a controlled passion against injustice and cruelty; and a grasp--not always in evidence these days--of the elements of genuine tragedy in the black-white confrontation that has shaped southern history."--Eugene Genovese, "The New York Times Book Review"
"As a comprehensive study of the coming of freedom, Litwack's book has no rival."--C. Vann Woodward, "The New York Review of Books"

From the Inside Flap

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award
Based on hitherto unexamined sources: interviews with ex-slaves, diaries and accounts by former slaveholders, this "rich and admirably written book" (Eugene Genovese, "The New York Times Book Review) aims to show how, during the Civil War and after Emancipation, blacks and whites interacted in ways that dramatized not only their mutual dependency, but the ambiguities and tensions that had always been latent in "the peculiar institution."
1. "The Faithful Slave"
2. Black Liberators
3. Kingdom Comin'
4. Slaves No More
5. How Free is Free?
6. The Feel of Freedom: Moving About
7. Back to Work: The Old Compulsions
8. Back to Work: The New Dependency
9. The Gospel and the Primer
10. Becoming a People

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By C. Ball TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 28 May 2013
Format: Paperback
This is not a history of African-Americans in America or black soldiers in the Army, a history of slavery in the South or the lives of free blacks in the North. Whilst it touches on all of those things, it is predominantly an in-depth look into the experiences and sufferings of the ex-slaves in the years immediately following emancipation, which came earlier for some than others depending on the vicissitudes of war and the advances of the Union Army, but prior to Radical Reconstruction.

It's a long book and incredibly detailed, necessarily so. It's also a very painful book to read. One would expect that by its very nature, of course, but it doesn't make it any easier to read. After suffering through the hell of bondage for over 250 years, emancipation was for so many slaves a let-down, less the light at the end of the tunnel but the brief interval between one tunnel and another. Emancipation in no way spelled freedom as they would have understood it; it didn't mean equality on any terms, north or south of the Mason-Dixon Line, it didn't mean land or education or voting rights or compensation. Whilst many in the North believed slavery to be a moral wrong, they did not necessarily mean they believed the slaves to be their equals or wanted to raise them up to be so. Quite the opposite.

The ex-slave was thwarted and abused at every turn. A government keen to put the bloodshed of the Civil War behind it was keener to accommodate and compromise with the white 'traitors' of the South than it was to protect the rights of those it supposedly fought to free. In many cases the slaves were encouraged to return to their 'masters', to return to toiling the soil, to be content with the small pittance they were given in recompense - and this was freedom, this they should be grateful for!
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Format: Paperback
Professor Litwack is a superb writer/teacher in the field of the struggles of african americans. He fully understands and convincingly portrays the harsh realities of our shameful past in "Been in the Storm so Long".
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x94e3b51c) out of 5 stars 21 reviews
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9564906c) out of 5 stars Indispensable study of African Americans after emancipation 11 Nov. 2004
By MarkK - Published on
Format: Paperback
Few populations in history have gone through the dramatic changes that African Americans underwent at the end of the Civil War. People who had suffered slavery for generations suddenly found themselves free, a welcome yet uncertain status that required considerable exploration and adjustment. Leon Litwack's book examines this transition, concentrating on how freed African Americans perceived freedom and how they shaped the conditions of their freedom in the aftermath of the Civil War.

For many African Americans, change began with the Civil War. Slaves in areas occupied by Union soldiers would be liberated from bondage, while many African Americans took up arms as the war went on. The end of the war and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment meant freedom for African Americans, freedom to live their lives as they wanted. For most, the first step was finding their scattered families and coming to terms with their time as slaves. Freedom also meant discovering a new identity, especially with regards to their former masters, as African Americans now had to deal with whites in new ways both socially and in the workplace. Finally, African Americans faced the challenge of creating a new society free of the restrictions of slave life, which led to the establishment of modes of religion, politics, and the press to serve their particular interests.

Litwack's book is an indispensable study of African Americans in the aftermath of emancipation. Based on a wealth of primary sources (including the invaluable collection of oral interviews conducted by the Federal Writers' Project during the 1930s), he argues that no set experience defined how African Americans dealt with freedom. What emancipation demonstrated was the interdependence that existed between African Americans and whites, an interdependence that did not end with freedom but was shaped by attitudes and tensions that remained from the experience of slavery. The result is a book that is essential reading for any student of the era, as well as for those seeking insight into race relations in America today.
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94ef6ee8) out of 5 stars A classic work 9 Feb. 2006
By O. Pflug - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Anyone with a serious interest in the Civil War should read Been in the Storm So Long. Litwacks's work is more than just black history; it explores the principle cause and consequence of the war. Unlike many general histories that preceded it, "Been in the Storm" relies heavily on primary sources. War-era diaries and letters of whites, Union Army records, Freedman's bureau reports, and Depression-era interviews of former slaves and their children, provide most of the material. The outrage of southern whites who watched trusted slaves pick up and leave when freedom came, echoes throughout the book. So too does the uncertainty of the era. Some blacks may have dreamed big, but most just wanted freedom, security, and opportunity. Though some lasting gains were made, the struggle for full freedom would be much longer.

Certainly, "Been in the Storm" is the place to start for Emancipation reading. Though the coverage of early black politics was not as strong as in Eric Foner' Reconstruction, I know of no equal for the early social consequences of Emancipation.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9517f8e8) out of 5 stars A wonderful book about slaves experiencing freedom 21 Feb. 2003
By Lynn Rubin - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is gives an excellent synthesis as to how freedom was experienced in various regions of the South after 1863. One of the finest books within the historiography of American slavery and freedom. Litwack goes to great lengths explaining the freedom experience, the failures of the Freedmen's Bureau and the hesitations ex-slaves felt after 1863. A must read and must have for anyone interested in slavery, its aftermath and Reconstruction.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x950ec6e4) out of 5 stars Without land or full legal rights, freedmen in the South slipped back into semi-slavery in the years after the Civil War. 19 Jan. 2008
By James Hoogerwerf - Published on
Format: Paperback
During the Civil War and the years of reconstruction which immediately followed, blacks experienced an interlude of optimism and hope from the harshness and repression of slavery. It was a time of great social upheaval and former masters and slaves were forced to adjust to a new order. In, "Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery, "Litwack writes of slavery's aftermath with a slave's point of view from contemporary accounts, diaries, and interviews conducted under the Federal Writer's Project. We learn how blacks perceived and experienced freedom.

Freedmen articulated their independence in many and varied ways, but fundamental to being free, was having one's own land. Former slaves soon found that land was not easily acquired despite their newfound freedom. Powerful forces conspired against them. Their fate became tied to plantations, working in the fields, just as before but now as contract laborers.

The new relationship as planters and laborers kept blacks from exercising the full range of privileges which should have belonged to them as citizens. Land ownership should have meant independence and self-sufficiency to former slaves. In slavery, they had worked the land and harvested its bounty but they were not the beneficiaries of their labor. With emancipation the idea of owning land "remained the most exciting prospect of all." (399) It epitomized the meaning of freedom.

The expectation of land redistribution, "forty acres and a mule," was ill founded and unrealized. The success of "such experiments [that] took place at Davis Bend, Mississippi, where blacks secured leases on six extensive plantations...[and] repaid the government for the initial costs, managed their own affairs, raised and sold their own crops, and realized impressive profits"(376)was an aberation. Any lingering hope that the government would redistribute land were dashed when on May 29, 1865, President Andrew Johnson pardoned former Confederates and permitted them to reclaim confiscated or occupied lands. Thereafter the Freedman's Bureau and Federal troops enforced the restoration of lands to their former owners. Not only was redistribution denied to freedmen, but fundamental legal rights were limited as well.

What did freedom mean to an emancipated slave who had never experienced it? According to Litwack, "newly liberated slaves adopted different priorities and chose different ways in which to express themselves, ranging from dramatic breaks with the past, to subtle and barely perceptible changes in demeanor and behavior." (292) Initial uncertainty about what to do gave way to "the urge toward personal autonomy"(293), which meant leaving the plantation or farm. To move about is so fundamental to our society today that we take it for granted, but to an emancipated slave it must have been nirvana. In contrast, former slave owners emmitted "cries of ingratitude and betrayal [that] were repeated with even greater vigor and frequency than during the war, compounded this time by the feeling of helplessness." (301)

Movement was an act of freedom, but one which swelled the black populations of nearby towns and cities. Shifting racial etiquette and ostentatious behavior served to harden racial sentiment. Disputes over public space occurred on the sidewalks, streets, and on public transportation. "Almost every white man remained convinced that only rigid controls and compulsion would curtail the natural propensity of blacks toward idleness and vagrancy, induce them to labor for others, and correct their mistaken notions about freedom and working for themselves." (305)

The planter class wanted freed slaves to understand that they must either work for whites or starve. Crops had to be planted and harvested and they had to know there would be labor to do the work. Black Codes were written so whites could control freedmen for their economic need. Fortunately for freedmen, Black Codes were short lived. But never-the-less the sentiment which created them continued and enforcement persisted where the Freedmen's Bureau did not put a stop to them, or where blacks had no recourse for appeal.

Legal rights were further restricted when " Union commanders moved quickly to expel former plantation hands from the towns and cities, to comply with the request of planters to force their blacks to work" (375) and by passage of vagrancy laws which applied only to blacks. Once under control and returned to the plantations, restrictive "voluntary" contracts served to keep them there. Even where labor was scarce, the former slave could not effectively exercise his rights. What bargaining power he had to reject a contract was limited. If he held out too long, he could be evicted, and he still had to support himself
somehow. "Although the freedmen's Bureau recognized his right to contract elsewhere, it insisted that he contract with some employer; if not he could be arrested for vagrancy." (443) His options were very limited.

Having no land and without full legal rights, freedmen could not pull themselves up from the aftermath of slavery and achieve the promise of freedom. That freedmen in the South slipped back into a condition of semi-slavery after the civil war has effected race relations and politics ever since. The following paragraphs focus on other issues which returned freedmen to the land under conditions almost as bad as they had experienced before the Civil War.

One would think that with the establishment of the Freedman's Bureau, passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitutional, black's independence would be assured. But these actions represented problems of reconstruction on a national level. The Freedman's Bureau was the first large scale Federal relief agency with a broad mandate to assist blacks in the aftermath of the Civil War.

The 13th Amendment abolished slavery but in response to the Black Codes, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act over a presidential veto. The 13th Amendment granted citizenship to persons born in the United States and was a result a long battle between President Johnson and Radical Republicans in Congress on the roll and the scope of federal power. The 14th Amendment affirmed the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act and went further to protect the rights of citizens. The 15th Amendment forbade the states from denying voting rights to former slaves on the grounds of race and color."With some justification, white Southerners accused the north of hypocrisy in seeking to impose upon them the racial equality which most Northerners would have abhorred." (260)

From the freedman's perspective, emancipation was a time to be jubilant in spirit, with a hopeful outlook and upbeat mood. But if self-ownership meant freedom to a former slave, it represented an economic loss to their former masters. While there was no recompense given for the loss of value to white owners, there was no payment given to freedmen either for their work as slaves. If what it meant to be free had to be experienced to be learned by former slaves, being without slaves had to be experienced to be learned by whites. "What most whites found difficult to accept was not so much the freedom of the slaves as the determination of ex-slaves to act as though they were free." (338) In the end old compulsions led to a new dependency to get back the agricultural labor system they were used to.

It would seem self evident that to survive people would have to work together in the south. The planters owned the land and needed laborers to work it. Freedmen had no land and needed work to survive. How the problem resolved itself was not very satisfactory. Without any political power, blacks were at a disadvantage. Not owning land and with curtailed legal rights, blacks were vulnerable to exploitation. The old model of plantation operation was there to mimic under new circumstances. "To listen to the former slaveholder, emancipation had changed only the method of compensation, not the basic arrangement, not the mutual understanding that had underlain the old system." (337)

The problem was how to get the people back on the land? The movement of blacks on the road was unsettling to whites. All these people were moving about and not in the fields where they belonged! From a government standpoint the Union Army and the Freedman's Bureau had a stake in keeping order. If there was not enough work for everyone outside of farming and people were not on the farms, that meant a huge welfare problem. Thus to the controlling agencies maintaining order under reconstruction meant getting blacks back where they belonged, on the fields. The old dependency of the plantation system returned with blacks depending on whites and whites depending on blacks. The old system wasn't fair and the new system didn't turn out to be too much better. As one old former slave put it when speaking on Lincoln (and freedom) "'Lincoln done but little for the Negro race and from living standpoint nothing."' (449)

The only hope blacks had for effective emancipation was with the North through reconstruction. But, there were no clear cut ideas that emanated from Washington: no prescient leadership and no determination to see the issue through to its end. The two federal entities that were most evident throughout the south were the Union Army occupation forces and the Freedman's Bureau. Blacks looked to them for help, but, in general, the only conclusion that can be reached is that what help was received was inadequate.

The Freedman's Bureau objective of returning former slaves to the land, facilitated the move back to a plantation system. Blacks had little hope for justice. "The ways in which a local Bureau agent or provost marshal considered the grievance of a freedman differed markedly from the deference paid to a prominent planter." (384) While supposedly free, now the black remained a second class citizen.

As reconstruction came to an end, the New Orleans Tribune used an appropriate term to refer to blacks under restrictive regulations as "mock freedmen" (377) effectively summarizing reconstruction's lasting effect. What came next was a system of debt peonage which kept blacks tied to the land with little chance of improving their condition. Sharecropping satisfied black laborer's desire for at least the feeling of having his own land. The planter provided the land and implements in exchange for half of the crops. But somehow the books didn't balance at the end of the season and the sharecropper or tenant remained in perpetual debt to the landowner.

Reconstruction came to an end because it was contrary to too many people's interests and blacks did not have enough political power to keep it going, at least to insure the achievement of true freedom. Without land and full legal rights, black political struggle was postponed for generations.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x951898e8) out of 5 stars What it was like 21 Aug. 2013
By Uncle Marv - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Do you ever wonder what the slaves were doing during the run-up to the civil war, what they were doing during the war, and what they were doing immediately after the war was over. This book will give you a good idea of what went on. It may also explain many of the strange happenings of the 19th century.
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