Towns Established by Former Slaves in Antebellum US
Much has changed since the end of the United States Civil War (1861-1865). America has seen the abolishment of slavery, the reunification of America and the authority of the Federal over the State governments established. The legacy of the civil war is still alive in parts of the south, as memories of the Ferguson unrest in August 2014 brought back the collective memory of the civil war and the struggle of rights for African Americans. One of the other legacies of the civil war, towns established by former slaves, are slowly dying out as a result of constant urbanisation and not enough knowledge of how to preserve minority historical heritage.
Many of these towns are located in the south and the furthest of these towns are in California. A town called Eatonville, in Florida and two hours north of Orlando, is one of these places that was established in 1887. It was able to withstand the Jim Crow laws and still has a population of over 2000. It was a free town where blacks could own and build their own property, and is the hometown of Zora Neale, the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God. In 1989, the city of Orlando wanted to rebuild and widen the streets of the town, but conservationist Everett Fly was able to argue the importance of preserving the history of the town and its original plans.
Another similar town in Texas named Nigton was established in 1873. It has links to the former slave Jeff Carter, a civic leader, who is thought to have helped establish the town. As the years went on, the town built a post office, church, school, sawmill and gin, wagonmaker, and shoemaker. At its peak, it had 500 residents. Today, there are about 80 residents, as generation after generation has continued to live in the town.
A project started in 2012, the Black Towns Project has gathered a database of the towns established by freed blacks online, but it needs further work and the site seems not to have been updated since 2012.
150 years have passed since the end of the American Civil War, and over 150 years since Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (1863). This proclamation helped paved the way for the freed slaves to build towns and communities. Many aspects of American life, especially for African Americans, has changed since the end of the war, but the legacies it has left behind, such as these towns built by former slaves, should and must be preserved as part of the history of the aftermath of the war.