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In 1861, as the United States stood at the brink of Civil War, people of African
descent, both enslaved and free persons, waited with a watchful eye. They
understood that a war between the North and the South might bring about
jubilee--the destruction of slavery and universal freedom. When the
Confederacy fired upon Fort Sumter and war ensued, President Abraham
Lincoln maintained that the paramount cause was to preserve the Union, not
end slavery. Frederick Douglass, the most prominent black leader, opined that
regardless of intentions, the war would bring an end to slavery, America’s
“peculiar institution.”

Over the course of the war, the four million people of African descent in the
United States proved Douglass right. Free and enslaved blacks rallied around
the Union flag in the cause of freedom. From the cotton and tobacco fields of
the South to the small towns and big cities of the North, nearly 200,000 joined
the Grand Army of the Republic and took up arms to destroy the Confederacy.
They served as recruiters, soldiers, nurses, and spies, and endured unequal
treatment, massacres, and riots as they pursued their quest for freedom and
equality. Their record of service speaks for itself, and Americans have never
fully realized how their efforts saved the Union.

In honor of the efforts of people of African descent to destroy slavery and
inaugurate universal freedom in the United States, the Association for the Study
of African American Life and History has selected “African Americans and the
Civil War” as the 2011 National Black History Theme. We urge all Americans
to study and reflect on the value of their contributions to the nation.
African American Civil War Memorial
About African Americans and the Civil War (PDF)
About African Americans and the Civil War News Release (PDF)
Congressional and Press Briefing-
150th Anniversary of the Civil War (
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton Remarks on
ASALH and the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War (
Looking back on the Civil War
by ASALH National President James B. Stewart (
Ongoing Coverage-150 Anniversary of Civil War (MS-Word)
African Americans in Civil War Medicine