Friday, September 24, 2010

David Blight - John Washington; How, When, Where and Why Emancipation Happened

David W. Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of American History at Yale University, joining that faculty in January 2003. He previously taught at Amherst College for thirteen years. As of June 2004, he is Director the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale. During the 2006-07 academic year he was a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars, New York Public Library. Blight is a frequent book reviewer for The Washington Post Book World, The Los Angeles Times, and The Boston Globe and is one of the authors of the bestselling American history textbook for the college level, A People and a Nation. His book, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Harvard University Press, 2001), received eight awards, including the Bancroft Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass Prize, as well as four awards from the Organization of American Historians. Blight’s most recent book, A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Narratives of Emancipation, was published by Harcourt in 2007.

Blight began by speaking briefly on the commemorations that came before the 150th and how the most important speech given was the “Dream” speech delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial.

He then shifted to the subject of his paper, john Washington of Fredericksburg, VA. Born in 1838, Washington was a talented young slave who was hired out to a tobacco factory in Fredericksburg and then got work in a tavern in Richmond. Washington came back to Fredericksburg in the winter of 1861-62 and became engaged, getting married in early 1862. He then worked as a hotel manager. He was there when the Federals arrived in April of 1862. Blight related the story of Washington pouring a round of shots for the black workers of the hotel and toasting the Yankees. When asked by a Union officer if he wanted to be free, his response was “by all means” (a true master of understatement).

Blight then told of how he had the opportunity to talk to Washington’s 90 year old granddaughter who, after he explained that he was publishing her grandfather’s memoir of slavery, stated – “don’t call me on Wednesdays during Grey’s Anatomy”!!!

Recommended Reading:

David W. Blight. A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2007.

John Washington and Crandall A. Shifflett. John Washington's Civil War: A Slave Narrative. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008.

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