New Chances for Us

Series historical adviser Daniel Czitrom reflects on the struggle of African Americans to advance the freedom movement, as the legacies of slavery and racism persevered.

Doctor Matthew Freeman confronts his attacker.

Doctor Matthew Freeman confronts his attacker.

Dr. Matthew Freeman is still trying to make sense of his recent dispute with the shop keeper Sedgley Craven and his gang of racist friends. He suffers a beating at their hands and struggles to keep control over all the rage he feels. Several Sixth Precinct detectives take the law into their own hands and rough up Craven, but Freeman resents their interference and questions their motives. Finally, he follows Sara’s advice, confronts Craven, and leaves the grocer a jar of Goldenseal salve to help heal his wounds. Freeman’s encounter with a bigot gives him a better understanding of himself, and with the war over, he reassures Sara, “there will be new chances for us.”

Fernando Wood, Mayor of New York, 1855-57 and 1860-62 (via Library of Congress)

Fernando Wood, Mayor of New York, 1855-57 and 1860-62 (via Library of Congress)

New York’s African Americans drew strength from the opportunities to advance the freedom movement, even as the legacies of slavery and the reality of race hatred surrounded them. They would have read about the speeches made by former Mayor Fernando Wood (now a Congressman), who appealed to white supremacist beliefs in opposing passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery.“The Almighty has fixed the distinction of the races; the Almighty has made the black man inferior, and sir, by no legislation, by no partisan success, by no military power, can you wipe out this distinction.” By contrast, African Americans organized in support. On February 14, 1865 Rev. Henry Highland Garnet became the first African American to deliver a sermon in the House of Representatives, commemorating the recent passage of the Thirteenth Amendment and demanding of Congress a program of “Emancipation, Enfranchisement, Education”

The raising of the 20th Colored Infantry, presented with its colors on Union Square in March 1864, had been a source of enormous pride. In mass meetings, petitions, and local conventions, black New Yorkers (and some white Republican allies) supported suffrage rights, the Freedmen’s Bureau, and other government assistance for emancipated slaves. In the city, they pressed for the integration of public schools and the broader public sphere. In June 1864 Mrs. Ellen Anderson demonstrated one of the most spirited examples of the new black activism. Ordered by a conductor to leave the white car of the Eighth Avenue Railroad, Mrs. Anderson decided to resist and had to be dragged off by the police. The case drew wide attention and Mrs. Anderson, whose husband had just recently been killed in battle, sued the railroad company. “I said I had lost my husband in the war,” she later testified, insisting she “had a right to ride anywhere when I paid my fare.” With the help of some influential white attorneys she won her case. By July, all the streetcars in New York City were open to blacks.

  • Emma

    Absolutely fascinating. Beautifully written, as always. These entries are a lot more interesting than some of the episodes this season.

  • kyphi

    I thought I saw Venetian blinds in one scene. They were invented later.

  • Divascenes

    Would someone please tell me what tare an’ouns means?

  • Lisa

    As always, this show was both entertaining and informative. I loved learning about the history of mid-1860′s NYC; especially the struggles of newly freed blacks, in addition to the growing immigrant population. I will miss this show greatly, both as a viewer and as a native NYer.

  • Bob

    Tare an’ouns means tears of Mary I believe. Does anyone know what disease Matthew Freeman was researching that he was trying to get published?

  • Bob

    I’m sorry it means tears and wounds of Christ. I knew it was tears.

  • don416

    We loved the series and we’re disappointed that it ended. The sets, costumes, and story-line were excellent, as were the characters You will be missed.