Class Year


Document Type

Student Research Paper

Date of Creation

Fall 2020

Department 1



Between 1865 and 1867, artists working for Northern illustrated newspapers travelled throughout the South to document its transition from slavery to a wage labor society. Perceiving themselves as the rightful reporters of Southern Reconstruction, these illustrators observed communities of newly freed African American men and women defining their vision of freedom. Northern artists often viewed the lives of African Americans through the cultural lens of free labor ideology in their efforts to provide documentary coverage of the South as objective observers. This paper will examine how illustrations of Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper reveal the contradictions between free labor ideology and the realities of Southern black women during early Reconstruction. Freedwomen’s efforts to define their emancipation were dually confronted with Southern vigilante violence, discrimination, and oppression as well as Northern pressures to pursue wage labor and construct respectable households. These illustrations only offered narrow glimpses into the lives of African American women as artists sketched narratives Northerners could use to gauge the success of their free labor experiment.


Written for History 425: Seminar on the American Civil War

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.