William Henry Singleton’s Recollections of My Slavery Days: a North Carolina Slave’s View of the Civil War and Its Legacies
In 1922, the former slave and Union Army veteran William Henry Singleton published an autobiography that provides a fascinating glimpse of life in a North Carolina coastal city and rural neighborhood. His Recollections of My Slavery Days vividly reminds us how slavery impacted black and white families, the church, and the marketplace in the antebellum South as well as the upheaval that accompanied the Civil War. The talk explores what Singleton’s narrative reveals about a place and the people in it, about slavery and freedom, and the bridge between the two. For Singleton, that bridge was built in the crucible of the Civil War and rested on the militant black political self-assertion that emerged early in the war in coastal North Carolina. Considering the fifty-seven years between the war’s end and Singleton’s writing, this talk also takes up the question of memory, of what we choose to remember, how we remember it, and why that matters.