Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Fall/Winter 2015
Volume 108, Number 3-4
In 1963, during the height of the Civil War Civil War centennial, the Illinois State Historical Society published a special issue of its journal to commemorate and celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The articles in the issue covered a wide range of topics related to African American history in Illinois up to the Civil War era. Although the ISHS had published articles on Illinois African American history through the years, a special issue devoted exclusively to the top was deemed appropriate.
As the sesquicentennial of both the Civil War and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment draws to a close, it is no less appropriate to devote a special issue of this journal to African American history in Illinois. In his second inaugural address Lincoln said that all knew that slavery somehow was the cause of the Civil War. To commemorate and remember the war without discussing slavery and the broader questions of African American citizenship and participation in society would be wrong. And so, I am happy to present six outstanding articles covering a variety of topics on Illinois African American history.
Christopher Robert Reed offers an analysis on the establishment of an African American community in Chicago with his article, “The EarlyAfrican American Settlement of Chicago, 1833–1870.” In a comprehensive review Reed touches on all aspects of the growing community including its social, religious, educational, economic and political spheres and he highlights the lives of some of the individuals and institutions that shaped that community.
In "The 1847 Illinois Constitutional Convention and Persons of Color," Jerome B. Meites reviews how white delegates dealt with African Americans in Illinois while drafting the state's 1848 constitution. Although abolitionists made their presence felt, the ultimate result of the convention with regards to African Americans was the passage of the 1853 Black Law, a discriminatory piece of legislation that prohibited free blacks from immigrating to Illinois. Meites concludes by saying that Illinois, a northern state known as the "Land of Lincoln and Liberty Too," was, in fact, not a bastion of liberty and the 1848 constitution reflected this.
Roger D. Bridges, in his article "Antebellum Struggle for Citizenship," discusses not only the reaction in the African American community to the 1847 convention and the enactment of the 1853 Black Law but also the community's effort at opposing other discriminatory black laws. Illinois African Americans, denied the right to vote and under constant threat under the black laws and the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, actively worked for their rights before the Civil War. Their struggle for citizenship took several forms including petitioning the general assembly, conducting mass meetings, investigation colonization plans and participating in nation and state colored conventions.
Victoria L. Harrison goes into greater depth on Illinois colored conventions in her article, "We Are Here Assembled: Illinois Colored Conventions, 1853-1873," Harrison reviews the changing nature of five state conventions held between 1853 abd 1873 and ties them in to the national convention movement and to both national and state events. In the end, however, she questions how effective the conventions were as agents for change.
African American activism was not limited to men. In “‘I EARN MY OWN LABOR FROM DAY TO DAY’: African American Women’s Activism in the Wartime Midwest,” Jennifer Harbour discusses the activism of African American women in Illinois and the Midwest by highlighting their efforts during the Civil War. Although they were constrained at the time by both their race and their sex, Harbour concludes, “black women had almost no political or socioeconomic power, so they instead used what they did have access to—their activist culture—in order to conduct emancipation”
One group in Illinois that did have the political opportunity to create change for African Americans was the Republican Party, which was founded in the 1850s on the issue of stopping the spread of slavery. Sally Heinzel, however, argues in her article “‘To Protect the Rights of the White Race’: Illinois Republican Racial Politics in the 1860 Campaign and the Twenty-Second General Assembly,” that opposition to slavery or its expansion was different than supporting full equality. She states that the majority of Illinois Republicans on the eve of the Civil War preferred not to alter the status of African Americans in Illinois.
The Civil War had a profound impact on many things in this country and in Illinois, especially in regards to race relations and the rights of African Americans. In 1865 the Illinois General Assembly made Illinois the first state in the union to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution, which ended slavery in the United States. That session of the general assembly also voted to repeal most of the state’s black laws. The 1870 Illinois constitution gave African American males the right to vote. These gains came about after a long struggle and a bloody fouryear civil war. Each of the authors in this issue worked independently of each other and yet together they have combined to make an important contribution to our understanding of the complexities of that struggle in Illinois. It has been an absolute honor to work with each of the authors and they are to be commended for their work in this special issue.
"The Early African American Settlement of Chicago, 1833–1870"
Christopher Robert Reed
"The 1847 Illinois Constitutional Convention and Persons of Color"
Jerome b. Meites
"Antebellum Struggle for Citizenship"
Roger D. Bridges
"We Are Here Assembled: Illinois Colored Conventions, 1853–1873"
Victoria l. Harrison
“'I Earn By My Own Labor From Day To Day': African American Women’s Activism in the Wartime Midwest"
“'To Protect the Rights of the White Race': Illinois Republican Racial Politics in the 1860 Campaign and the Twenty-Second General Assembly"
Northern Men with Southern Loyalties: The Democratic Party and the Sectional Crisis. By Michael Todd Landis
Reviewed by Stephen L. Hansen
Collaborators for Emancipation: Abraham Lincoln and Owen Lovejoy. By William F. Moore and Jane Ann Moore
Reviewed by Robert McColley
Lincoln & Liberty: Wisdom for the Ages. Ed. by Lucas E. Morel
Reviewed by Patricia Ann Owens
Lincoln and the War's End. By John C. Baugh
Reviewed by Wallace Dean Draper
Lincoln's Assassination. By Edward Steers, Jr.
Reviewed by Sean A. Scott
The True Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography. By Betty Boles Edison
Reviewed by Matthew Toland
The Devils to Pay. John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour. By Eric J. Wittenberg
Reviewed by Samuel Blackwell
Stonewall's Prussian Mapmaker: The Journals of Captain Oscar Hinrichs. Ed. by Richard Brady Williams
Reviewed by Greg Bailey
Spring 1865: The Closing Campaigns of the Civil War. By Perry D. Jamieson
Reviewed by Larry T. Balsamo
After Appomattoc: Military Occupation and the Ends of War. By Gregory P Downs
Reviewed by Brent M.S. Campney
Music Along the Rapidan: Civil War Soldier, Music, and Community during Winter Quarters, Virginia. By James A. Davis
Reviewed by Catherine Bateson
Unione and States' Rights: A History and Interpretation of Interposition, Nullification, and Secession 150 Years After Sumter. Ed. by Neil H. Cogan
Reviewed by John G. Grove
Portrait of John Jones, ca. 1865, by Aaron Darling. Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum.