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Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans And the End of Slavery By Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer This year is an anniversary year for a number of events significant to the struggle for racial equality in America, including the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation. While the document technically did not free any slaves–if you are interested in that, I will see you in my class on African American History Before Emancipation, Spring semester 2014!–it has always been interpreted, especially by enslaved African Americans, as though it did. Despite President Abraham Lincoln’s assertion that the Civil War was not about slavery, the enslaved thought otherwise. From the time the first shots were fired, they assumed and acted as though the war was about their freedom. For years Deborah Willis, Professor and Chair of Photography and Imaging at the New York University, and Barbara Krauthamer, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, had been discussing what the freedom of African Americans looked like. They spent a number of years in libraries, archives and museums across America looking for photographs that would answer that question. After viewing more than one thousand pictures, they chose one hundred fifty–some never before seen in public–as the basis for their book. Envisioning Emancipation documents how Americans black and white viewed enslavement, war, emancipation and freedom. Through these poignant, disturbing, brilliant, and evocative photographs, Willis and Krauthamer depict both races as they grappled with the freedom of four million black slaves and the struggle over racial equality. The book also shows the many ways photography can be utilized to frame, express and record for posterity thoughts that are too difficult or revolutionary to put into words. Part of the tremendous appeal of the book is the way Professors Willis and Krauthamer have divided the photographs into three sections: Representing the Appeal, A Collective Portrait of the Civil War and Legacies of Emancipation. The most disturbing photographs are found in the first section; it is here where we can see how pro- and anti-slavery supporters used photography to support their respective positions on slavery. For example, the Swiss zoologist Louis Agassiz was visiting Robert Wilson Gibbes, a professor of medicine at South Carolina College and a physician who treated white masters and their slaves. Gibbes arranged for Agassiz, a proponent of polygenesis, to slake his curiosity about Africans and took his guest to several plantations so he could examine enslaved blacks of immediate African origin. Agassiz claimed to find evidence to support his theory that Africans and Europeans had separate origins and Africans were inferior; he memorialized that evidence in pictures. The nude photographs of two male and two female slaves are an incredibly stark representation of racism, and allow white viewers to figuratively place themselves in the slave markets where slaves were stripped, poked, and prodded to obtain evidence of their soundness and worth. The two most prominent black abolitionists of the time are also represented in familiar photos. The profile portrait of Frederick Douglass shows a handsome, dapper and dignified man far removed from his earlier life as a slave and then a fugitive. In her direct and unflinching gaze, Sojournor Truth is seen as keenly aware of her celebrity. Dressed in sumptuous fabrics, she holds a daguerreotype of her grandson–a highly personal reminder of what was at stake–and captioned the photograph with her name and these words: “I sell the Shadow to Support the Substance.” In presenting themselves through photographs, Envisioning Emancipation also reinforces the fact that the enslaved were very active in obtaining their freedom. Through the use of dress, props and poses they depicted how they saw freedom. Professors Willis and Krauthamer also underscore the agency of African Americans by showcasing the work of African American photographers, and using a wide range of photographs that show slaves and freedmen going about the business of their everyday lives. Black women, who have been marginalized in all stages of the black freedom struggle, are also prominently shown. What does freedom look like? According to Krauthamer, “Freedom for black Americans really looked like a sense of perseverance and dignity, and a commitment to family and community, even in the most trying circumstances.” Envisioning Emancipation is a wonderful anniversary tribute to the African American freedom movement.