Considering the question of the recovery of marginalized voices in the archives, this article reflects on the problem of finding and interpreting the personal responses of African Americans to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Black freedom was central to the post–Civil War nation, yet direct black voices remain submerged, available most often in public sources like newspapers and sermons or in scant and skeletal personal writings. The most vivid black voices are to be found in more troublesome sources: those mediated by sympathetic whites who recorded the words and actions of African Americans. Such sources lack a crucial dimension of experience found in the more voluminous direct personal responses of Lincoln's white mourners: the persistence of everyday life (matters of labor, health, romance, leisure) in the face of shock and grief, an absence that stems from the particular motivations of white observers. Scholars must also reckon with the question of how to present these methodological challenges to our readers and how to shape both the content and structure of our narratives to move marginalized voices to the center. In sum, ventriloquized voices in the archives must not be dismissed but must instead be approached with rigor and imagination.
1 December 2015