As W. E. B. Du Bois famously posited in Black Reconstruction in America (1935), the Civil War witnessed a massive slave rebellion. The “general strike,” as Du Bois called it, involved directly the flight of hundreds of thousands of slaves and the resistance mounted by those who stayed put and contributed to the destruction of slavery on the South’s plantations and farms and in its cities and towns. This essay suggests, however, that while neither Du Bois nor the scholars who followed him fully grasped the part slave women played in the wartime destruction of slavery, his paradigm-shifting work has the potential to provide a critical opening for this discussion to take place. Like their husbands, fathers, and brothers, enslaved women who engaged the crisis of the Union as an opportunity to secure their freedom risked as much. The Emancipation Proclamation opened a sanctioned path for slave men to pursue freedom through military service. The sanctioned path it offered slave women was also the path of war but without even the veneer of protection black men enjoyed.
Thavolia Glymph; Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction and Slave Women’s War for Freedom. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 July 2013; 112 (3): 489–505. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-2146431
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