African-Americans in Antebellum U.S.

4 April 2015
Analyzes sociologist Ira Berlin’s theory that blacks freed before the Civil War formed a caste distinct from whites & black slaves, with political & socioeconomic subcastes in North & South.

This essay investigates Ira Berlin’s thesis (1974, 1976) that free Negroes in the antebellum United States formed a caste distinct from free whites and black slaves, and that this caste contained three distinct regional subcastes, in the North, the Upper South, and the Lower South. The investigation, using more recent and more detailed historiography, will consider whether Berlin’s categories remain viable, whether they need to be replaced in toto, or whether they need merely further elaboration, and, if so, what sorts of elaboration will be needed.
The general perspective arrived at here is that Berlin’s categories need detailed elaboration within each of his three major regions. Freed African-Americans formed local communities and unique personal identities that cannot be forced into Berlin..

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