Conjuring Freedom

From Johari Jabir’s Conjuring Freedom: Music and Masculinity in the Civil War’s “Gospel Army” (2017).

Conjure is the black cultural practice of summoning spiritual power as an intentional means of transforming reality and involves a belief in an invisible magical power that can be used for healing and/or harm…

…For soldiers in black regiments during the Civil War, freedom was not simply found, it had to be forged. They found themselves forced to conjure freedom out of the materials made available to them as soldiers who had been slaves but were not yet citizens. In much the same way that the coping religion of the slaveocracy became transformed into the enabling religion of the slaves, the forms of soldiering and citizenship made available to former slaves that were designed to assimilate them into a masculinist hierarchical, exploitative, and racist society became something else in practice. These tools of domination became conjured into new forms of masculinity, solidarity, and social membership that promoted democratic and egalitarian change in society at large. Just as conjurers healed the slave body with a mixture of efficacious materials, newly free Africans in America attempted to heal the body politic and cure society’s ills through a tradition of organized protest with musical accompaniment that expressed alternate social visions of democracy.

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