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This month marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Lincoln issued on Jan. 1, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. The document declares that all those held as slaves within any state, or part of a state, in rebellion “shall be then, thenceforward and forever free.” Historian Bruce Levine explores the destruction of the old South and the reunified country that emerged from the Civil War in his new book, The Fall of the House of Dixie. He says one result of the document was a flood of black men from the South into the Union Army. “The black population of the South had been raised on the notion that, among other things, black men could not, of course, be soldiers,” Levine tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, “that black men were not courageous, black men were not disciplined, black men could not act in response in large numbers to military commands, black men would flee at the first opportunity if faced with battle, and the idea that black men in uniform could exist and … offer them the opportunity to disprove these notions and … more importantly, actively struggle to do away with slavery, was unbelievably attractive to huge numbers of black people.” As its ranks dwindled and in a last gasp, the Confederacy, too, had a plan to recruit black soldiers. In 1864, Confederate President Jefferson Davis approved a plan to recruit free blacks and slaves into the Confederate army. Quoting Frederick Douglass, Levine calls the logic behind the idea “a species of madness.” One factor that contributed to this madness, he says, “is the drumbeat of self-hypnosis” that told Confederates that “the slaves are loyal, the slaves embrace slavery, the slaves are contented in slavery, the slaves know that black people are inferior and need white people to … oversee their lives. … Black people will defend the South that has been good to them. There are, of course, by [then] very many white Southerners who know this is by no means true, but enough of them do believe it so that they’re willing to give this a chance.” Considering what might have happened had there been no war at all, Levine thinks slavery could well have lasted into the 20th century, and that it was, in fact, the Confederacy that hastened slavery’s end. “In taking what they assumed to be a defensive position in support of slavery,” he says, “the leaders of the Confederacy … radically hastened its eradication.” MORE

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