Harding, Vincent, “Slavery Chains Done Broke at Last,” in There Is a River (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1981). Copies of There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America can be found at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Vincent Harding (1931-2014) was an African American historian, theologian, pastor, and social justice activist with close ties to Martin Luther King, Jr. In the early 1960s, Harding and his wife Rosemarie devoted themselves to the civil rights movement, advocating nonviolent resistance and protesting nuclear armament. Harding taught at Spelman College and other universities, landing at Iliff School of Theology in Denver in 1981 as a professor of religion and social transformation, and remaining there until his retirement in 2004.
1. Who wrote this source? When was it written?
2. What did Emancipation Day celebrations entail in the years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed (page 259)?
3. According to Harding, why did freedom need to “become a full-blown institution” (page 260)?
4. Why did Harding choose to examine the January 12th, 1865 meeting between black church leaders and General Sherman in Savannah (pages 261-264)? How does this meeting advance Harding’s argument about African Americans shaping their future near the end of the Civil War?
5. To what common claim does Harding provide the powerful counterargument that the African American leaders who emerged after emancipation were definitively not “products of white paternalism, of an internalized white work ethic or a concentration camp system” (page 265)?
6. What was the purpose of Field Order 15 (pages 267-270)? Why was it “sheer altruism”? How did it affect the lives of African Americans?
7. Why did so many African Americans advocate for self-government in autonomous communities at the end and after the Civil War? What are some examples of these communities (pages 268-269)?
8. What is the main point that Harding makes in this chapter?