Who Freed the Slaves?: Emancipation as a Social Movement

January - April 2013

On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation became law.  Conceived as a pragmatic measure to hasten the end of a bloody civil war, the Proclamation declared millions of slaves to be “forever free.”  Americans naturally identify this momentous event with Abraham Lincoln, who became widely known as “The Great Emancipator.”  While Lincoln undoubtedly played a key role in ending slavery, were political figures alone responsible for this momentous event?  Historians have come to see emancipation as the result of a broader social movement which worked tirelessly to force Americans to consider the moral and economic consequences of slavery.  The slaves themselves were a key part of this movement.  By fleeing to Union lines, serving as Union soldiers, and insisting on full equality, they set the stage for their own liberation.  This exhibit relies on documents and artifacts from the William Wyles Collection—a treasure trove of original nineteenth-century materials about Lincoln, the Civil War, and the American West held by the Department of Special Collections at the UCSB Library. Co-curated by Maria Fedorova and John Majewski.

Maria Fedorova is a Ph.D. student in American History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Originally from Moscow, Russia, Maria came to the United States two years ago as a Fulbright Scholar. Upon a successful completion of the Master's Program in American History at Washington State University, Maria was admitted by UCSB to the Ph.D. program in the Fall of 2012. Her research interests focus on the 20th-century American economic and political history, with an emphasis on the regulation of the food industry. Maria is under the advisement of Professor Nelson Lichtenstein and works as a Research Assistant for Professor John Majewski.

John Majewski is professor in the history department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he is also Associate Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts. John came to UCSB after receiving his MA and Ph.D. in American history from UCLA. He also holds a M.Sc. in economic history from the London School of Economics and a BA in economics and history from University of Texas, Austin. John’s research interests have focused on the economic history of Civil War America. His first book, entitled A House Dividing: Economic Development in Pennsylvania and Virginia before the Civil War, was published by Cambridge University Press. His second book, called Modernizing a Slave Economy: The Economic Vision of the Confederate Nation, was published by UNC Press in 2009.