A to Z

This section explores an A-Z of the themes that reoccur throughout the images that we gathered for this project. 

R is for Race

As abolitionism increased in popular favour during the first half of the nineteenth century, US reactionaries feared a future of increased Black social mobility. Anti-abolitionists wrote to allay their anxieties of white replacement and demographic change. For example, in Jerome B. Holdgate’s dystopian novel A Sojourn in the City of Amalgamation (1835), mixed race marriages have led to moral failure, political decline and damaged health in an imagined twentieth-century Philadelphia. As a counterpart, early US utopian texts such as Mary Griffith’s Three Hundred Years Hence (1836) imagine a white-only future where free and formerly enslaved Black Americans have agreed to depart for Africa, and Indigenous Americans have vanished from the nation – ‘the twanging of their bow-string is a forgotten sound’.

Miscegenation Or the Millennium of Abolition imagines a very near future where Black and white men and women freely marry one another. ‘Miscegenation’ was a new word in the 1860s – coined from the Latin ‘miscere’ or ‘to mix’ – which appeared in a fake Republican pamphlet with the same name from 1863 (Elise Lemire, 2002). The pamphlet argued that mixed race people ‘are much superior, mentally, physically, and morally to those pure or un-mixed’ and suggested white Americans should ‘marry and be given in marriage’ to Black men and women. Observing changes in race across nations and in the US South, the pamphleteer predicts that African Americans will not die out but survive and thrive by marrying into white families – ‘in the far future, the negro will wash his face into paleness with the blood of white men’s veins!’ as part of a ‘powerful, prosperous, and progressive’ nation (Miscegenation, 1863). Although a work of satire, this pamphlet puts forward a multi-racial ‘melting pot’ vision of a future America, one which reappears in TIME magazine’s ‘remarkable preview’ of the ‘New Face of America’ in 1993.Written to smear Lincoln’s Republicans as corrupting society and threatening white families, the pamphlet hoaxer shares the same reactionary anti-Black politics with the cartoonist of Miscegenation: in fact, it is most likely the cartoonist is responding to the planned marriages of the progressive pamphleteer. In the cartoon, several interracial couples are sat on benches, driven in carriages or walking around a park, including one couple married by Lincoln himself. In these domestic and intimate scenes (eating ice cream, sitting on laps), lascivious Black men are positioned as a threat to pure white womanhood. These caricatured Black men and women threaten to subjugate the poor or immigrant white population: an Irish nanny complains that she has to care for middle class Black children; white carriage drivers serve Black passengers. White workers complained about servile roles, not in cross-racial solidarity with Black workers who largely worked in these professions, but rather as ‘a call to arms to end the inappropriate oppression of whites’ (David Roediger, 1991). The possibility of Black social and economic mobility exacerbated these fears that white workers would themselves become a future forgotten people.

Miscegenation Or the Millennium of Abolition (New York; G. W. Bromley & Co., 1864), Library of Congress.