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Black Histories and Futures Month: "The Evolution of Northern Views on Slavery During the US Civil War" by James Goodyear

Our first student submission for the Black Histories and Futures Month Student Research Showcase is "The Evolution of Northern Views on Slavery During the US Civil War" by undergraduate History student James Goodyear. 

As James explains, 

This essay explores how the US Civil War shifted Northern white people’s views on Black enslavement. It examines the topic from a political perspective, exploring the changing opinions of Northern politicians and the dynamic motivations behind their legislation; it examines it from the perspective of the Union army, many of whom experienced fighting alongside freed Black soldiers, of which there were nearly 200,000, and it examines it from the perspective of the middle and working classes, whose opinions were equally shaped by the conflict. I derived evidence exclusively from primary sources contemporary to the Civil War from various perspectives, including politicians, newspaper articles, Black activists and rank-and-file soldiers. In the essay, I argue that, throughout the course of the war, Northern politicians, soldiers and the broader public’s views on slavery shifted from apathy, support or distaste to outright abolition, marking a positive change in Black Americans' lives. The most recognizably positive development was the 1865 Thirteenth Amendment, which, on paper, freed all Black enslaved people in the United States. However, despite these developments, I argue that it is wrong to view these changes as a complete break from the prejudices of the past because not all white people in the North relinquished their support for slavery, and the South remained a hotbed for anti-Black racism. After the Civil War, Black people were still predominantly treated as inferior by the white population. Slavery left behind intergenerational anti-Black racism passed down from parents to their children that still survives in the twenty-first century—it takes a lot more than a century and a half to get rid of widespread prejudice that existed for hundreds of years more. The continued presence of anti-Black racism in modern America exemplifies the limitations of the Civil War’s capacity to change Northern people’s opinions of slavery. It may have changed enough to allow for the abolition of slavery, but anti-Black racism survived through Black Codes, Jim Crow laws, and, today, mass incarceration.  

In honour of Black Histories and Futures Month, the Department of History is featuring undergraduate student research that addresses Black histories, Black cultures, and Black experiences. Throughout the month of February, we will post the three essays deemed to be the strongest of the many exceptional projects we received during our open submission call. The selected papers were produced for courses in the Department of History and the Dan School of Music, namely: MUSC 271: Introduction to Hip Hop, HIST 473: Black Women in US History, and HIST 216: US Civil War and Reconstruction.  

We hope you enjoy reading our students’ work! The Selection Committee would like to thank all of those who submitted their work for consideration. Learn more about events on campus and in Kingston celebrating Black Histories and Futures Month here. 

Department of History, Queen's University

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Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.