Defining Moments

African American Commemoration and Political Culture in the South, 1863-1913

By Kathleen Ann Clark

312 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 7 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5622-2
    Published: September 2005
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-7680-0
    Published: May 2006

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The historical memory of the Civil War and Reconstruction has earned increasing attention from scholars. Only recently, however, have historians begun to explore African American efforts to interpret those events. With Defining Moments, Kathleen Clark shines new light on African American commemorative traditions in the South, where events such as Emancipation Day and Fourth of July ceremonies served as opportunities for African Americans to assert their own understandings of slavery, the Civil War, and Emancipation--efforts that were vital to the struggles to define, assert, and defend African American freedom and citizenship.

Focusing on urban celebrations that drew crowds from surrounding rural areas, Clark finds that commemorations served as critical forums for African Americans to define themselves collectively. As they struggled to assert their freedom and citizenship, African Americans wrestled with issues such as the content and meaning of black history, class-inflected ideas of respectability and progress, and gendered notions of citizenship. Clark's examination of the people and events that shaped complex struggles over public self-representation in African American communities brings new understanding of southern black political culture in the decades following Emancipation and provides a more complete picture of historical memory in the South.

About the Author

Kathleen Ann Clark is assistant professor of history at the University of Georgia.
For more information about Kathleen Ann Clark, visit the Author Page.


"An intriguing analysis of African-American celebrations of freedom during the late nineteenth century. . . . A worthy addition to the library of anyone interested in the history of the period."--Georgia Historical Quarterly

“The most complete account to date of Southern black commemorations of the war, emancipation, and Reconstruction.”--Civil War History

"An excellent study of an important topic, and should find its way onto the shelves of all scholars interested in African American and Southern history and the politics of commemoration."--Southern Historian

"The first monograph to concentrate exclusively on southern African American commemorations in the fifty years following emancipation. . . . Has helped establish a firm foundation for further studies."--Civil War Book Review

"A welcome addition the literature on Emancipation celebrations. It enhances understanding of the diversity of black responses to Emancipation and Jim Crow, and it sheds new light on the roles of gender and religion in formulating African American identity."--Register of Kentucky Historical Society

"Through skillful analysis, the author offers an interesting and plausible narrative of the role and significance of commemorations."--NC Historical Review