The American Civil War in the 1860’s embodies what is probably the most intense period of change for the life quality of the African American population. From antebellum America to the post-war reconstruction era, the quality of life for African Americans would take extreme dives and reach incredible peaks, but rarely stay at a constant state of what could ever be considered normality. The separation and eventual reconnection of the United States sent shockwaves through the entire country, but it’s easily arguable that no lives were changed more than those of the black slave population. This period of time saw African Americans go from being considered lesser beings that were owned by whites to a race with newly universal freedom and opportunities that had been previously unimaginable. This era is a vital piece of the overall African diaspora as it is an integral part of how African Americans came to be a free group of people. As black Americans advanced from slaves to citizens, the art they created would correlatively grow and change. This essay will evaluate how different genres and mediums of art evolved through this era. It is important to know more about the events, people, and works of art that impacted these changes in order to better understand how the lives and opportunities of African Americans developed just before, during, and soon after the American Civil War. Because this topic will bounce back and forth chronologically, it is most easily understood when organized by type of art rather than time of creation. Keep in mind, huge amounts of crude and fine art were done by slaves who can never be credited for the work they did. Much of the art from this time lacks Africanism because it was created to the specifications of slavers’ requests.
The development of art throughout this time is thanks greatly in part to efforts, contributions, and monetary donations from both black and white abolitionists. Revolutionary thinkers like Fredrick Douglass believed that there could be a world where all men were treated as if created equal. Thankfully, they also understood that this was not a concept that would ever come easily into existence. Douglass himself once said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress” (Patton 55). Abolitionists understood the importance and the influential potential of artwork. Black artists and abolitionists were born into a world full of stereotypes they would have to overcome to achieve any sort of credibility. The majority of the white population at this time considered black people to be completely inferior to them in mentality, emotional capacity, and any form of skilled ability. Black artists, if able to overcome the binds of servitude, still had to compete with the ignorance of the masses in order to arrive at any kind of tangible success.
In the antebellum era, American concepts of art and culture were still almost entirely those taken from European ideas. America was considered a place where all that mattered was materialism and economic prosperity, and thought to be a place where there was little to no emphasis on artistic enterprise or cultural development. Artisan trade (such as metalwork, carpentry, cabinet making, quilting, and architecture) dominated all other art forms in America during the early 19th century. A small number of slaves were just now beginning to be moved away from fieldwork and off of plantations to be hired into more skill-requiring positions in American cities. Master artisans preferred hiring slaves as opposed to taking on apprentices; a slave could be trained and kept in his position for years, while an apprentice would typically break away from his master after gaining the training that he needed to start his own practice. Trained slave artisan workers became a treasured commodity to both master artisans and plantation owners alike. Slaves could achieve skill levels competitive to full time professional