Saturday, June 16, 2012

Inhumane Treatment of ex-Slaves, 1862-70

Jim Downs of Connecticut College has written a book, Sick from Freedom, about the freeing of slaves at the end of America’s Civil War. The bloody war and its chaotic aftermath had shocking effects on the freed slaves.

  • The freed slaves were often neglected by union soldiers
  • Freed slaves faced rampant diseases such as smallpox and cholera
  • Many of the slaves starved to death
  • Downs estimates that about a million freed slaves died or were very ill between 1862 and 1870. Many did not want to check into this tragedy at the time.
  • Many Notherners were indifferent to the health of the freed slaves
  • Those abolitionists who knew about the tragedy feared widespread knowledge of it would play into the hands of their critics
  • Many freed slaves were kept in unsanitary camps in a state of hunger and disease
  • Some could only leave the camp by returning to the plantation where they were only slaves
  • Some of the union soldiers were brutal in their conduct
  • Some observers thought the entire former slave population would itself die out, as the Indians had done previously
-- summarized from a review of the book by Paul Harris for the UK Guardian at: 

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