Panel Three: Giving Meaning to Freedom

On May 20-21, 2016, the University of Memphis will host “Memories of a Massacre: Memphis in 1866, a Symposium Exploring Slavery, Emancipation, and Reconstruction.”  The culmination of a semester-long series of lectures, workshops, discussions, and book talks, this symposium will feature historians and scholars from across the country, including Robert K. Sutton, Chief Historian of the National Park Service.  Together, their presentations and the ensuing discussions will pry open what has for 150-years been the carefully concealed history of Reconstruction, its legacies, and the significant role that Memphis played in both. Please join us as we reflect collectively on a wave of terror that rocked a city and changed a nation.

Below is the third of our six panels.

First Panel 

Second Panel

May 20, 2016


susan odonovanSusan Eva O’Donovan, University of Memphis, “The Problem of Freedom in the Era of Emancipation” Twitter Handle: @odonovanse1

Dr. O’Donovan’s work focuses on the history of enslaved women and men, the Civil War, emancipation, and that period we call Reconstruction as regional, national, and transnational phenomena.

Her interest in these areas led her initially to the Freedmen and Southern Society Project, and then formed the intellectual core of her first book, Becoming Free in the Cotton South. Published in 2007 by Harvard University Press and recipient (among others) of the Organization of American History’s James A. Rawley Prize in 2008 for the best book in the history of race, Becoming Free in the Cotton South explores the gendered dimensions of work in slavery and the ways in which those always contingent dynamics shaped black people’s expectations, aspirations, and experiences in freedom.

These interests inspire much of her current work as well. For instance, her new project, Slaves and the Politics of Disunion, is an attempt to expand and repopulate what we think of as the political universe by taking into account those who had the greatest stake in one of this nation’s greatest debates: the enslaved. It is research that challenges decades of scholarly interpretation by approaching enslaved women and men as agents of historical change, individuals who in attempting to advance their own interests helped shape an increasingly volatile political terrain. It is research that calls on us to rethink the origins of the Civil War and as a result, the consequences of a war that cost as many as 700,000 lives. Last but not least, it is research that asks of the past today’s questions about technologies of knowledge, and where and how politics happens.

These interests likewise weave through and animate her ongoing contributions to the Freedmen and Southern Society Project, the After Slavery: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Emancipation Carolinas, educational initiatives like National History Day, and American Nineteenth Century History, the British-based, peer-reviewed scholarly journal that she co-edit with Bruce Baker of Royal Holloway University, London.

Dr. O’Donovan’s most recent publications reflects her fascination with this nation’s passage through slavery and war to an ongoing debate about freedom’s meanings. As guest editor of the April 2009 issue of the OAH Magazine of History, she joined other historians to introduce educators to the newest scholarship on antebellum slavery and ways in which to teach it. More recently, she continued this discussion by bringing together another team of scholars whose essays in Teaching the Civil War in the 21st Century raise provocative questions about the war’s origins, its combatants, its geography, and its memory.

In a series of essays that have appeared in various anthologies, including Children in Slavery: A Global History (2009), Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America (2012), and Slavery and Freedom in Savannah (under review), Dr. O’Donovan has been seriously and systematically rehearsing what she currently sees as major themes in Slaves and the Politics of Disunion. Likewise, she regularly submits her work to the scrutiny of scholarly audiences: for example in early 2012, tackling the political paradox of slave hire before the Washington D.C. Seminar in Early American History and discussing the problematic triptych of women, work, and mobility with an interdisciplinary audience at the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies at the University of Mississippi.

kate masurKate Masur, Northwestern University, “Urban Battlegrounds: Reconstruction in Southern Cities” Twitter Handle: @katemasur

Dr. Kate Masur studies the history of the United States. Examining the intersections of law, politics, and everyday life, her work explores how Americans grappled with questions of race and equality after the abolition of slavery in both the North and South. Masur, a faculty affiliate of the Department of African American Studies, is the author of An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C. (2010) and of prize-winning articles on emancipation and black politics during the Civil War. Her most recent journal article is “Patronage and Protest in Kate Brown’s Washington,” Journal of American History (March 2013).

Masur has written about history in the New York Times and other popular venues and is currently working with the National Park Service on projects related to the 150th anniversary of Reconstruction. Her past work has been supported by the ACLS/Ryskamp Fellowship, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. Before arriving at Northwestern, she was an associate editor at the Freedmen and Southern Society Project at the University of Maryland, and she is a co-editor of Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, ser. 3, vol. 2: Land and Labor, 1866-1867.

Masur’s current book project concerns race, civil rights, and law enforcement in the United States from the 1820s through the Civil War, with particular focus on the crucial principle of due process of law.


elizabeth jemisonElizabeth L. Jemison, Clemson University, “Christianity, Race, and Politics after Emancipation.” Twitter Handle: @eljemison

Elizabeth L. Jemison is a scholar of American religious history. She earned an A.B. in Religion at Princeton University and an A.M. and Ph.D. in the Study of Religion at Harvard University. Her research focuses on questions of race and gender in 19th and 20th century American Christianity, and she has particular expertise in African American religious history and the religious history of the American South. She is a member of the 2016-2017 cohort of the Young Scholars in American Religion program.

Jemison is writing a book based on her dissertation that examines politics, citizenship, and religion among African American and white Christians in the post-Civil War South. The book is currently titled Southern Redemption: Religion, Race, and Politics from Emancipation to Segregation. The project’s extensive archival research has earned support from the Graduate Society at Harvard University, the Charles Warren Center for American Historical Studies at Harvard University, the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, Clemson’s Humanities Advancement Board, and Clemson’s CAAH Faculty Development Research Program. An early piece from this project has appeared in the Tennessee Historical Quarterly.

ladrica-mensonfurrModerator: Ladrica Menson-Furr, Director of African & African American Studies, University of Memphis

Ladrica Menson-Furr researches contemporary African American dramatic literature and fiction. She is particularly interested in the works of August Wilson, Pearl Cleage, Zora Neale Hurston, and Colson Whitehead.

She is the author of “The Blues, Psychosis, and the Black Arts Movement in Bourbon at the Border.” Pearl Cleage and Free Womanhood: Essays on Her Prose Works (2012),  August Wilson’s Fences. UK: Continuum, (2008), and “The Ground on Which I Stand is I, too, Am America”: African American Cycle Dramatists, Dramas, and the Voice of Inclusionn in  Interrogating America through Theatre and Performance (2007).

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