On Jordan's Banks
Emancipation and Its Aftermath in the Ohio River Valley
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
The story of the Ohio River and its settlements are an integral part of American history, particularly during the country's westward expansion. The vibrant African American communities along the Ohio's banks, however, have rarely been studied in depth. Blacks have lived in the Ohio River Valley since the late eighteenth century, and since the river divided the free labor North and the slave labor South, black communities faced unique challenges.
In On Jordan's Banks, Darrel E. Bigham examines the lives of African Americans in the counties along the northern and southern banks of the Ohio River both before and in the years directly following the Civil War. Gleaning material from biographies and primary sources written as early as the 1860s, as well as public records, Bigham separates historical truth from the legends that grew up surrounding these communities.
The Ohio River may have separated freedom and slavery, but it was not a barrier to the racial prejudice in the region. Bigham compares early black communities on the northern shore with their southern counterparts, noting that many similarities existed despite the fact that the Roebling Suspension Bridge, constructed in 1866 at Cincinnati, was the first bridge to join the shores. Free blacks in the lower Midwest had difficulty finding employment and adequate housing. Education for their children was severely restricted if not completely forbidden, and blacks could neither vote nor testify against whites in court. Indiana and Illinois passed laws to prevent black migrants from settling within their borders, and blacks already living in those states were pressured to leave.
Despite these challenges, black river communities continued to thrive during slavery, after emancipation, and throughout the Jim Crow era. Families were established despite forced separations and the lack of legally recognized marriages. Blacks were subjected to intimidation and violence on both shores and were denied even the most basic state-supported services. As a result, communities were left to devise their own strategies for preventing homelessness, disease, and unemployment.
Bigham chronicles the lives of blacks in small river towns and urban centers alike and shows how family, community, and education were central to their development as free citizens. These local histories and life stories are an important part of understanding the evolution of race relations in a critical American region. On Jordan's Banks documents the developing patterns of employment, housing, education, and religious and cultural life that would later shape African American communities during the Jim Crow era and well into the twentieth century.
"Finalist for the Governor's Award given by the Kentucky Historical Society." --
"There is simply an overwhelming amount of information packed into this fascinating book." -- AfroAmericanHeritage.com
"Bigham's careful study of African American life between 1860 and 1880 subtly reminds scholars that the Lower Ohio is important." -- American Historical Review
"Successfully illustrates that African Americans did more than just survive slavery, the Civil War, and emancipation; they carved out their own destinies.... Highly recommended." -- Choice
"A valuable addition to the existing literature of the settlement of the Ohio River Valley. It fills a gap left by the exclusion of the African American experience in previous historical works." -- History
"Brings together an impressive array of secondary sources and supplements these with original research into census materials, tax records, and other primary documents." -- Indiana Magazine of History
"Bigham explores churches, schools, jobs, politics, families, and the varieties of everyday African American life to offer fascinating insights into the changing reality of American ideals of equality." -- James H. Madison, author of A Lynching in the Heartland: Race and Memory in Ame
"In this fine study of African American life in the 19th -century Ohio Valley, historian Darrell Bigham adds another chapter to our understanding of this important region in U. S. history. Whereas most scholars have focused primarily on the larger urban centers, Bigham illuminates the experiences of blacks in little known towns and cities all along the Ohio River. As such, he also opens up prospects for exciting new research on this subject." -- Joe W. Trotter, author of River Jordan: African American Urban Life in the Ohio
"An important resource for those interested in the collective history of African Americans in the Ohio Valley." -- John A. Hardin, Western Kentucky University
"Unlike other studies that have focused exclusively upon the racial dynamics of large metropolitan areas like Cincinnati, Bigham finds potent history in small places as he traces the transition from antebellum slavery to postemancipation freedom in the town and villages where relationship could hold more sway than rhetoric." -- Journal of Illinois History
"[A] fine study of African American life on the nineteenth century's great 'Borderland'...This is regionalism of the most valuable kind, defining a region that since the Civil War has been largely subsumed by the Midwest north of the river and the South below it. Bigham's study challengesthose regional distinctions, at least in the matters of race and culture." -- Ohio History
"Expands our understanding of a complex topic, as it rejects the Ohio River as a divide but instead makes it the center of a vast region for examining black/white relationships." -- Thomas L. Owen, Archivist for Local History, University Archives, University of
"In arguing [his] point quite persuasively, Bigham, like Joe William Trotter, forces scholars to reconceptualize the Ohio River Valley and the notion of borderlands in American history. There is much to applaud in Bigham's exhaustive study. This is an important and useful work and will cause historians and the public to continue the re-evaluation of the Ohio River Valley's transformation during the nineteenth centure, the meaning of emancipation for African Americans, and the ways that blacks attempted, and in many cases succeeded, to advance as a group on both sides of the Ohio. All scholars interested in African American history, the Ohio River Valley, and urbanization, should read this fascinating book." -- James M. Beeby, Indiana University Southeast, Ohio Valley History
""Much demographic information is relayed in the text, and a series of useful tables in the appendix denotes population shifts and the groth of African American communities. These same demographics may make On Jordan's Banks a challenging study for the general reader, but scholars interested in regional history will find that Bigham has succeeded in bringing together a host of secondary sources and community studies to offer a clear picture of African American life in the lower Ohio Valley. Although one could argue that the book contains little new information because it is not based soly on original research, those who study the black experience in the Midwest and the Upper South will find much fodder here."" -- West Virginia History
""[A] meticulously researched and lucidly written volume.""A fine study that adds much to our knowledge of African American life in the 19th century Ohio Valley River region, a topic that until recently has received only scant attention from scholars. Whereas many historians have focused primarily on the larger cities, Bigham discusses, in great detail, the experiences of Black Americans in little-known and obscure towns and cities. For this reason alone, he should be greatly commended.""This volume clearly enhances out understanding of the important and complex history of the Ohio Valley region as well as the nature of race relations in the United States overtime." -- Dr. Eric Jackson" -- Dr. Eric Jackson
""An important and useful work and will cause historians and the public to continue the re-evaluation of the Ohio River Valley's transformation during the nineteenth century, the meaning of emancipation for African Americans, and the ways that blacks attempted, and in many cases succeeded, to advance as a group on both sides of the Ohio. All scholars interested in African American history, the Ohio River Valley, and urbanization should read this fascinating book." -- Ohio Valley History" --