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Aberration of MindSuicide and Suffering in the Civil War-Era South$
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Diane Miller Sommerville

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469643304

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469643304.001.0001

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Somethin’ Went Hard agin Her Mind

Somethin’ Went Hard agin Her Mind

Suffering, Suicide, and Emancipation

(p.120) Chapter 4 Somethin’ Went Hard agin Her Mind
Aberration of Mind

Diane Miller Sommerville

University of North Carolina Press

Freedmen and freedwomen suffered emotionally and materially after emancipation, even while many of the circumstances related to enslavement that had triggered their suffering as slaves ended. Like southern whites, they had lived in a war zone and suffered from the exigencies of civil war: deprivation, starvation, and dislocation. New obstacles, too, emerged as the formerly enslaved experienced freedom: they lacked shelter, food, medical care, and stable employment. The path to freedom was strewn with new obstacles: uncertainty, negotiating new terms of employment, redefining marital roles and relationships, racial violence and abuse. Many freed African Americans struggled emotionally and psychologically under the new conditions of emancipation and entered insane asylums or became suicidal. Despite increasing numbers of black patients in asylums and a purported ‘rise in insanity’ among blacks, southern whites continued to believe the region’s black population was impervious to melancholy because they were an inferior, content, uncivilized race whose simple needs were met. Instead, insane blacks were deemed ‘manic,’ a condition resulting from ex-slaves receiving freedom and responsibilities they were ill-equipped to handle. A racialized construction of suffering and mental illness emerged after the war; melancholy and suicide were reserved for whites, madness and mania for southern blacks.

Keywords:   suicide, suffering, emancipation, freedmen and freedwomen, freedom, Reconstruction, trauma, Freedmen’s Bureau, mania, asylums

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