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John Hope Franklin, Historian, on
The meaning of freedom

John Hope Franklin Can you help me by characterizing the sense of what the end of the war meant for those people who had been enslaved?

Franklin : The end of the war for slaves, first of all, meant freedom. The Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued by President Lincoln on the first of January 1863, did not free the slaves in Tennessee, largely because they were already under Union control. They freed the slaves in areas that were still under Confederate control. But now there would be no question, spring of 1865, after the occupation of Nashville by Union troops, there’d be no question about the freedom of slaves. At long last, they were "clearly and forever free", as one of the sculptresses would put it.

But "free" meant responsibility. It meant some independence. It meant that they had to be resourceful. It meant that they had to find out a way of making their own way. And this had not been their habit, their custom, and their tradition. But they would now seek ways to make a living. So you see them walking up and down the streets in Nashville, in the spring of 1865. You see them looking for work. Sometimes they’re looking for loved ones. Sometimes they’re looking for opportunities. Sometimes they’re looking for education. They want all these things, and yet there are so few of them that are immediately available.

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