Vassar College Digital Library
During the Civil War the Port Royal Experiment – part government-funded enterprise in free slave labor, part abolitionist-fueled social experiment – provided the former slaves of the South Carolina Sea Islands with their first experiences of paid labor while learning how read, write, and practice the morals of a good Christian citizenship. For the Union, it was an immediate solution to masses of refugee slaves, who had fled the plantation and crossed into Union territory. The interplay between capitalist interests and the rhetoric on citizenship at Port Royal is the perfect site to examine the interstices of land, citizenship, and race (as a dimension of White Supremacy) in the United States. The conversations on land and labor upon it coming out of the Port Royal Experiment implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) address the question of black citizenship. An unpacking of this specific narrative draws distinct connections between the nature of American citizenship and the use and ownership of land. The Port Royal Experiment was conducted at a crucial juncture in American history that in many ways set the course for black citizenship. An examination on the discourse at Port Royal can illuminate how black citizenship was articulated in terms of land, providing a richer subtext to the reality of black dispossession in America today.
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