Savannah Freedpeople Express Their Aspirations for Freedom

In January 1865, after Union general William T. Sherman’s army arrived in Savannah, Georgia, the secretary of war Edwin Stanton joined Sherman at a meeting with representatives of Savannah’s black community. The black community chose Garrison Frazier, a minister who was formerly enslaved, to represent their views before Sherman and Stanton. What follows is an excerpt from the transcript of this meeting, known as the Savannah Colloquy. This is Handout 3.2 (p. 42) from The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy.

  1. State what your understanding is in regard to the acts of Congress, and President Lincoln’s proclamation, touching the condition of the colored people in the rebel States.

    Answer. So far as I understand President Lincoln’s proclamation to the rebellious States, it is, that if they would lay down their arms and submit to the laws of the United States before the 1st of January, 1863, all should be well; but if they did not, then all the slaves in the rebel States should be free, henceforth and forever: that is what I understood.

  2. State what you understand by slavery, and the freedom that was to be given by the President's Proclamation.

    Answer. Slavery is receiving by irresistible power the work of another man, and not by his consent. The freedom, as I understand it, promised by the proclamation, is taking us from under the yoke of bondage and placing us where we could reap the fruit of our own labor, and take care of ourselves, and assist the Government in maintaining our freedom.

  3. State in what manner you think you can take care of yourselves, and how can you best assist the Government in maintaining your freedom.

    Answer. The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and turn it and till it by our labor—that is, by the labor of the women, and children, and old men—and we can soon maintain ourselves and have something to spare . . . We want to be placed on land until we are able to buy it and make it our own.

  4. State in what manner you would rather live, whether scattered among the whites, or in colonies by yourselves.

    Answer. I would prefer to live by ourselves, for there is a prejudice against us in the South that will take years to get over; but I do not know that I can answer for my brethren.

    (Mr. Lynch says he thinks they should not be separated, but live together. All the other persons present being questioned, one by one, answer that they agree with ‘brother Frazier.’)

  5. Do you think that there is intelligence enough among the slaves of the South to maintain themselves under the Government of the United States, and the equal protection of its laws, and maintain good and peaceable relations among yourselves and with your neighbors?

    Answer. I think there is sufficient intelligence among us to do so.1


  • 1 "Sherman Meets The Colored Ministers In Savannah," O.R. Series I, Vol. XLVII/2 [S# 99] Union Correspondence, Orders, and Returns Relating To Operations in North Carolina (From February 1), South Carolina, Southern Georgia, and East Florida, From January 1, 1865, to March 23, 1865, #2.

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