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In the two decades before the Civil War, a new type of capitalism developed in the northern United States that stressed mass education, widespread innovation, and new markets for art and design. For Black abolitionists, the changing northern economy presented new opportunities to highlight the evils of slavery. While continuing to attack slavery’s physical cruelty, Black abolitionists in the 1840s and 1850s increasingly highlighted the “mental darkness” of slavery, focusing on the systematic denial of literacy, learning, and creativity. Through their own creative labor, Black abolitionists made a compelling case for racial equality. The fate of Black creative labor after the Civil War, though, demonstrated the limits of using creativity as a way of obtaining citizenship, and raises important questions about how we in the 21st century “live democracy” in a society that valorizes creativity amidst growing inequality and systemic racism. Audience Q&A will follow.
John Majewski is the Michael Douglas Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts and Professor in the Department of History. His areas of specialization include American economic, social, and legal history; Southern history; and the U.S. Civil War. He is the author of A House Dividing: Economic Development in Pennsylvania and Virginia Before the Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 2000), Modernizing a Slave Economy: The Economic Imagination of the Confederate Nation (UNC Press, 2009), and numerous articles, reviews, and book chapters.
Sponsored by the IHC’s Living Democracy series
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