Freedmen and Southern Society Project

No event in American history matches the drama of emancipation. More than a

No event in American
history matches the drama of emancipation.
More than a century later, it continues to stir the
emotions, and properly so. In the United States, emancipation
accompanied the defeat of the world’s most powerful slaveholding
class and freed a larger number of slaves than did the end of slavery in all
other New World societies combined. Clothed in the
rhetoric of biblical prophecy and national destiny and born of a
bloody civil war, it accomplished a profound social revolution.

The Freedmen and Southern Society Project was established in 1976 to capture the essence of that revolution by depicting the drama
of emancipation in the words of the participants: liberated
slaves and defeated slaveholders, soldiers and civilians, common
folk and the elite, Northerners and Southerners.

Drawing upon the rich resources of the
National Archives
of the United States
, the project’s editors pored over millions of
documents, selecting some 50,000. They are presently transcribing, organizing, and annotating them to explain how black people traversed the bloody ground from slavery to freedom between the beginning of the Civil War in 1861 and the beginning of Radical Reconstruction in 1867. The documents vividly speak
for themselves, and interpretive essays by the editors provide historical context.

The documents convey with first-person immediacy the experiences of the liberated: the quiet personal satisfaction of meeting an
old master on equal terms and the outrage of being ejected from a
segregated street car; the elation of a fugitive slave enlisting
in the Union army and the humiliation of a laborer cheated out of
hard-earned wages; the joy of a family reunited after years of
separation and the distress of having a child involuntarily
apprenticed to a former owner; the hope that freedom would bring
a new world and the fear that, in too many ways, life would be
much as before.

Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867

Placed in the context of the Civil War and Reconstruction with
the aid of original essays, the documents uncovered by the
project’s editors are presented in
Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867. A total of nine volumes of
Freedom is projected; six have been published to date.

A selection of documents from Freedom is available on this web site.

Four volumes prepared for general readers and classroom use are also available.


Part of the History Department of the University of Maryland, the Freedmen and Southern Society Project is supported by

University of Maryland

and by grants from

National Endowment for the Humanities


**National Historical Publications and Records Commission**

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