To Protect the Precious Boon of Liberty: African Americans and Meanings of Post-War Citizenship in Boston, Massachusetts, 1865-1870.
May 10, 2012 —
Civil War Lecture
To Protect the Precious Boon of Liberty: African Americans and Meanings of Post-War Citizenship in Boston, Massachusetts, 1865-1870
May 17, 2012
As the Civil War came to a close, African Americans throughout the nation worked to define what freedom would mean in a post-emancipation world. In this lecture, Millington Bergeson-Lockwood explores how African Americans in Boston, Massachusetts defined meanings of post-war American freedom. Black Bostonians remained vigilant as they enacted a vision of citizenship grounded in the right of suffrage and the state enforcement of prohibitions against racial discrimination. Through local challenges in the courts and state legislature, they successfully pressed for laws prohibiting racial discrimination in places of public accommodation. Despite local victories, their vision of freedom remained bound up with the rights of African Americans in the former Confederacy. Massachusetts’ first black legislators criticized the limits of the Fourteenth Amendment and called for more forceful protection of African American civil rights nationally. Even after the successful passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, black Bostonians recognized that the preservation of their rights depended on community agitation. In their advocacy, they crafted a political vision that understood “the precious boon of liberty” as protected only by state action coupled with persistent community vigilance.
Millington Bergeson-Lockwood is an adjunct assistant professor in the History and Art History Department at George Mason University. He specializes in the history of African American politics, urban history, and Race and the Law. His current book project examines African American political activism in Boston, Massachusetts from the end of the Civil War through the beginning of the twentieth century.