Emancipation

Description

This engraving by the American political cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840–1902) celebrates the emancipation of Southern slaves with the end of the Civil War. Nast paints an optimistic picture of the future of free blacks in the United States. The central scene shows the interior of a freedman's home with the family gathered around a "Union" woodstove. The father bounces his small child on his knee while his wife and others look on. Between the mantel and the window hang a picture of Abraham Lincoln and a banjo. Below this scene is an oval portrait of Lincoln and above it, Thomas Crawford's statue Freedom. On either side of the central picture are scenes contrasting black life in the South under the Confederacy with visions of the freedman's life after the war. At top left fugitive slaves are hunted down in a coastal swamp, while below a black man is sold, apart from his wife and children, on a public auction block. At bottom a black woman is flogged and a male slave branded. Above, two hags, one holding the three-headed hellhound Cerberus, preside over these scenes and flee from the gleaming apparition of Freedom. In contrast, on the right, a woman with an olive branch and scales of justice stands triumphant. A freedman's cottage can be seen in a peaceful landscape. Below, a black mother sends her children off to the public school. At bottom a free black receives his pay from a cashier. Two smaller scenes flank Lincoln's portrait. In one a mounted overseer flogs a black field slave; in the other a foreman politely greets black cotton-field workers.

Last updated: September 11, 2013