The Daily Gamecock

Roediger: 'People today are directly affected by the slaves seeking freedom'

Visiting professor discusses impact of emancipation

Distinguished visiting professor David Roediger stressed that “oppressed people can make things change” in a lecture given to more than 100 students and faculty members Monday evening in Gambrell Hall.

Roediger explored the diffusion of emancipationist ideals, particularly in the period of American history shortly following the Civil War, in his lecture, entitled “American Spring: The Spread of Emancipationist Impulse to White America after the Civil War,” presented by the USC History Center.

A scholar on race, labor and immigration movements in American history and a professor of history and African-American studies at the University of Illinois, Roediger explained that freedom is not something that is easily contained to one group of people. He credited the abolition of slavery and the emancipation movement with spurring women’s suffrage and labor rights movements.

Roediger discussed the consequences of the Civil War through the eyes of freed slaves, who called their emancipation a “jubilee.”

“Immediate, uncompensated emancipation of slaves (was once) the impossible thing in American politics,” Roediger said. “Not only had the impossible happened, but once it happened, it happened as a result of slave agency.”

Freedom, he said, was not an original goal of the Civil War but was accomplished when slaves realized they had an “opportunity to turn it into an emancipationist’s war.” The slaves “had a tremendous hand in their own emancipation,” Roediger said.

“The world (became) up for grabs,” he said. “Freed people (began) to seize everything that was denied them.”

After the successful emancipation movement, Roediger explained that other groups of oppressed people began to question, “What would freedom mean for us?” It was in these post-Civil War years of reconstruction that arguments for women’s suffrage and workers’ rights would eventually gain traction.

“People had a sense of opportunity to make headway on all sorts of fronts,” Roediger said.

Roediger’s lecture was inspired by his ideas for an upcoming book. The origins, he said, were a combination of the many Civil War anniversaries that are recognized and, more significantly, the recent domino-like chain of freedom revolutions in the Arab world in the midst of the so-called Arab Spring.

Similar to the succession of the emancipation, women’s suffrage and workers’ rights movements in this country’s history, Roediger said the Arab Spring is “an example of the way that thoughts of freedom are like a contagion.”

“People today are actually directly affected by the slaves seeking freedom,” Roediger said.

Roediger has authored or co-authored over a dozen books and taught at several universities. He is spending the semester conducting research and teaching a graduate course at USC.