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Litwack’s Arguments on the Aftermath of Slavery Essay

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Updated: Jan 1st, 2022


The objective of this essay is to evaluate and analyze the work of Litwack Leon, titled “Back to Work. Been in the Storm for so long”. In this book, Leon broadly discusses the aftermath of slavery in America. This paper seeks to delve into a technical theme addressed by Leon on what kind of freedom was adopted by the ex-slaves prior to the passage of the 13th U.S. constitutional amendment of 1865 that saw America getting rid of indentured servitude, forced labor, and consequently freedom.

Passage of the 13th U.S. Constitutional Amendment in 1865

After the long period of forced labor, meager wages, prolonged human tortures and maltreatment, landlessness, abject poverties, hunger, and diseases, there emerged civil strives that paved way for the amendment of the Constitution. As Litwack discusses, the vastly molested by the servitude indenture system were the African-Americans, mostly from the Southern frontiers. It was a society divided into two unique demographies, a society of masters and slaves (Litwack, 396-407).

Under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, U.S. 16th President, there was a looming concern for freedom and awareness about democracy. In his quest for democracy, Lincoln enforced the amendment of the constitutional laws that granted slavery. A landmark ruling was then made in1865 with the successful passage of the Anti-slave decree, commonly referred to as the 13th amendment. The blacks and minority whites that were for long tied under the bolts and bondages of slavery finally had a reason to smile (Litwack, 389-407).

In the 13th U.S Constitutional amendment, was the Freedman’s Bureau, set up by Congress to ensure that ex-slaves were provided with the basics of life like food, shelter, clothing, healthcare services, and at least some source of income (Litwack, 389). The bureau was also to build schools for the predominantly illiterate freedmen and women. Part two of the decree stated that ex-slaves were free to farm the landowners land and be paid from the harvest shares which they could use to pay rents. This was termed sharecropping (Litwack, 393-405).

Litwacks preview of the Aftermath of Slavery in America

The aftermath of slavery was the resultant effects of freedom found in 1865 through the passage of the 13th constitutional amendment. Litwick is so composed in describing the lifetime experiences of freedmen and women in a rather narrative and dramatic note. As chapter eight of his book commences, we realize that there are a number of direct quotations Litwack uses to describe the testaments, resentments, and general views of the ex-slaves about their new ways of living.

“The excitements with the congregation was immense…groups were formed talking over what they heard, and ever and again other cheers were given to some sentences of the speech” (Litwack, 388). This was part of the speech that was delivered by Delaney, a government official whose report speech Litwick used to express and explain the state of excitement that came with the implementation of the Freedman’s Bureau decree. The Bureau’s objectives were to put some food on the tables of freedmen and women, provide them with shelter and clothing, education and take care of their health. It was indeed a new dawn for the ex-slave men and women, most of who remained hesitant to believe, not until very late (Litwack, 388-389).

Livelihoods of the freedmen took a different swift, as they practiced to cope up with the new rulings, no longer under the ruthlessness of their masters, but under the care of new laws. Things that none of them hardly talked about before started happening. Slaves began to negotiate their labor force charges with the masters. ”For If I leave them, they will never pay me what they owe me…” (Litwack, 391). This was a quote from an ex-slave. It clearly reveals how much resentments they had from their past experiences with the former masters, to the extent of seeking for slightest revenge strategies. One of such strategies unanimously used by ex-slaves was to make their labor services to the masters very costly, as the masters were not known to possess most of the skills they had after all. So they had no otherwise but to pay for the negotiated charges.

Discussion and Conclusion

Using many typical scenarios in form of non-platonic and dyadic discourses between masters and ex-slaves, Leon posits that emancipation of the ex-slaves did not lead to such drastic changes in how they chose to live their new lives. In this freed state, the ex-slaves still yearned for more. They generally felt that freedom from slavery alone was not a complete package of the kind of liberation they anticipated. Such notions of discontent and dissatisfactions led them to what Litwick must have termed as “the new dependency” (Litwack, 389).


Litwack, Leon. Back to work. Been in the Storm so long. The aftermath of slavery. The New Dependency. New York. Vintage Books. 1980. Chap VIII: 386-449.

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