Nikki M. Taylor is a professor of African American history at Howard University. Her other books include Frontiers of Freedom: Cincinnati’s Black Community, 1802–1868 and America’s First Black Socialist: The Radical Life of Peter H. Clark.
The American Civil War was the first military conflict in history to be fought with railroads moving troops and the telegraph connecting civilian leadership to commanders in the field. New developments arose at a moment’s notice. As a result, the young nation’s political structure and culture often struggled to keep up. When war began, Congress was not even in session.
Margaret Garner was the runaway slave who, when confronted with capture just outside of Cincinnati, slit the throat of her toddler daughter rather than have her face a life in slavery. Her story has inspired Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a film based on the novel starring Oprah Winfrey, and an opera. Yet, her life has defied solid historical treatment.
Nineteenth-century Cincinnati was northern in its geography, southern in its economy and politics, and western in its commercial aspirations. While those identities presented a crossroad of opportunity for native whites and immigrants, African Americans endured economic repression and a denial of civil rights, compounded by extreme and frequent mob violence. No other northern city rivaled Cincinnati's vicious mob spirit.