Monday, September 12, 2016

Chandra Manning's "Troubled Refuge"

Chandra Manning graduated summa cum laude from Mount Holyoke College in 1993 and received the M.Phil from the National University of Ireland, Galway, in 1995. She took her Ph.D. at Harvard in 2002. She has taught history at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, and was Associate Professor of History at Georgetown University. Currently, she serves as Special Advisor to the Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

Manning applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War, and reported the following:
From page 99:
For most of the black men, women, and children who fled slavery and ran for Union lines in the West, emancipation’s landscape was even more disorienting, mobile, and impermanent than it was for those who fled in the eastern theater of the war. With a few notable exceptions, Union grasp on territory in the West was more tenuous and forces changed base, often repeatedly and sometimes rapidly, in constant attempts to control transportation arteries as well as territory. As a result, routes out of slavery tended to follow rivers and railroad tracks, and journeys along those routes tended to consist of one temporary hiatus after another, rather than a single arrival at a permanent location. In contrast with freedpeople who ran to Fort Monroe or to Roanoke Island or to one of the Sea Islands and then stayed put, refugees from slavery in the western theater often floated in and out of multiple camps, but never out of danger. Almost nobody, and nothing, not even freedom itself, stayed in one place for long. If the river Jordan was not rolling through this shifting landscape of slavery and emancipation, the river Mississippi certainly was. The Mississippi was both water of life and force of destruction, much like the army itself. Shaped by the twin forces of the army and the Mississippi, the experience of emancipation in the western theater was relentlessly disruptive, transient, and clouded less by grit blown inland from the sea than by the swirl and fog of constant motion.
Two of the book’s central themes appear in this paragraph on page 99: first, the experience of leaving slavery and the version of freedom that a person found depended a great deal on precisely where a person undertook the journey from slavery to freedom, and second, emancipation, freedom, and citizenship were all products of an intricate dance between structural forces (powerful as the Mississippi River) and individual agency, which could act upon and influence but never fully overcome those structural forces. There are at least four additional themes, equally central to the book, not present in this paragraph, but two themes seems like plenty to ask a single page to carry. To take the first: the paragraph reflects upon differences between eastern and western contraband camps, and the book takes that point even further to emphasize that the experience of exiting slavery was a step into the unknown for any man, woman, or child who took that step. No escaping slave had a clear or easy path to freedom; instead, he or she had the specific details of what a given day brought, and no choice but to patch those details together into an escape route from bondage. As a result, what it felt, looked, sounded, tasted, and smelled like to leave slavery and struggle toward freedom varied widely, and depended on the precise details of each former slave’s environment. To take the second theme: there is no question that the first steps toward freedom came from the people deciding to run from slavery, but it is equally indisputable that individuals could not bring down an institution so powerful, so buttressed by wealth, and so entrenched within the politics and society of the United States as slavery was. Structural forces –and power—mattered, and they had to shift for emancipation to happen. But people had something to do with when and how the shifts happened, people often caught up in circumstances far larger than themselves. And so the story of emancipation and the reinvention of freedom and citizenship in the United States must be in part the story of how massive forces and individual decisions and actions acted upon each other. Troubled Refuge aims to tell just such a story.
Learn more about Troubled Refuge at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue