There Was Never Any Pay-day For the Negroes

From History Matters:

Slavery As slavery collapsed at the close of the Civil War, former slaves quickly explored freedom’s possibilities by establishing churches that were independent of white control, seeking education in Freedmen’s Bureau schools, and even building and maintaining their own schools. Many took to the roads as they sought opportunities to work and to reconstitute their families. Securing their liberty meant finding the means of support to obtain land or otherwise benefit from their own labor, as Jourdon Anderson made clear in this letter to his former owner. He addressed Major Anderson from Ohio, where he had secured good wages for himself and schooling for his children. Many freedpeople argued that they were entitled to land in return for their years of unpaid labor and looked to the federal government to help achieve economic self-sufficiency. Black southerners understood the value of their own labor and looked for economic independence and a free labor market in their battle over the meaning of emancipation in post-Civil War America.

Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

Read the rest of this remarkable letter here. [Thanks to David Schneider.]