“Agonizing Groans of Mothers” and “Slave-Scarred Veterans”: Commemorating Slavery and Emancipation

The effect of slavery on black Americans

The effect of slavery on black Americans is discussed in the article "Agonizing Groans of Mothers" and "Slave-Scarred Veterans": Commemorating Slavery and Emancipation by Leslie Schwalm. The essay focuses more specifically on how slavery affected the descendants of slaves and the black communities in the upper Midwest of the United States. In three different contexts—liberation day celebrations, cultural productions and obituaries, and post-war slave narratives—it also examines the contested memories of enslavement and liberation. It examines how African Americans and whites in the upper Midwest of the United States of America remember slavery and independence in public. The article’s main argument is that by giving testimony to a personal and shared past where black had been kept as slaves and the whites as the slave owners, African Americans of Midwest claimed their history. According to the article, both the previously enslaved and their descendants grappled with a national legacy of slavery in many contexts including in memory and commemorations, in both public memorials and even individual suffering. Therefore, the community has been deeply engrossed in a struggle concerning the commemoration of slavery and liberation after the Civil War.

The article's justification

The argument is justified since the article offers a unique approach to the study by examining public celebration, family histories and obits, autobiographies, essays of the previously enslaved individuals. The article makes good references to some of the earlier published works that relate to the topic by author like Saidaya Hartman and Charles Chessnutt. The article also refers to a Newspaper clipping of 4th August 1898. These references make the argument more convincing. However, assumes that slavery’s afterlife was found in the memories of those who were once slaves and also the post memories that dominated and were maintained by the descendants of the formerly slaved.

The usefulness of the article

The article is useful and largely applicable since it explains brings clear one of the generalizations widely held which has been accepted by even the literary scholars and historians. That the steadily rising black middle class just after the emancipation and during the decades that followed the Civil War took a firm stand on staying away from the downgrading and humiliating slavery history. Contrary to that, the article clarifies that, for over fifty years following the Civil War, former slaves in Upper Midwest laid claim and even maintained memories of slavery in public and private contexts and used them to ask white Americans to acknowledge their full citizenship in America and the human race (Schwalm, 2008).

Insights into the history of blacks and slavery

The article gives a deep insight into the history of blacks and slavery and on reasons for the contestation regarding the memories of slavery. More particularly, it offers a well-balanced discussion on public memory among the blacks and liberty among the whites including the African Americans in the Midwest United States. The article is also insightful as it shows how some of the white writers provided a history of the slavery that was very different from the narratives held and maintained by black Americans. The article links slavery as the main contributing factor for marriage instability among the African Americans. It ruined relationships and bonds because they were not allowed to marry and therefore would be ripped away from their families (Schwalm, 2008).


Schwalm, L. A. (2008). "Agonizing Groans of Mothers" and "Slave-Scarred Veterans": The Commemoration of Slavery and Emancipation. American Nineteenth Century History, 289-304.

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