Fall 2013: Best Abstract

Neither Slave Nor Free: African Americans in Civil War Art
Makeda Best
Assistant Professor of Visual Studies
California College of the Arts

Neither slaves nor free citizens, African American contrabands and runaways during the American Civil War posed a challenge to the existing social and political order. This paper will consider the necessary revision in conventional artistic tropes and stereotypes, with particular attention to the emergence of new images of African Americans, which can be distinguished from images of African American troops. Images also illustrate conflicted interpretations of African American contributions to the war effort and of the status of African Americans in the post emancipation era. Stories about former slaves regularly appeared in Northern media outlets. Images of contrabands and runaways gained broad circulation and received sustained attention in the media-related arts of illustration, photography, and photographically based images. Their activities were less dramatic than those of enlisted men, but contrabands and runaways were the focus of critical political and cultural debates, and their actions contributed to milestones in American history.

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