The Legend of Mustapha Shaw: Slave, Soldier, Rebel

Allison Dorsey

Embedded within the historical narrative of black Americans in the moment of Reconstruction, the story of black freedmen and women is retold as a sorrow song – a tale of hopes raised and then dashed. Historian Allison Dorsey explains how the legend of Mustapha Shaw challenges this narrative.

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Audio: [50 min 55 sec] | Download

The historical narrative of the American Civil War and Reconstruction has most often focused on the “promise” of the nation’s “Second Revolution” and the “splendid failure” of the federal government to secure land for and protect the civil rights of black Americans in the moment of Reconstruction. Embedded within this narrative, the story of black freedmen and women is retold as a sorrow song – a tale of hopes raised and then dashed. Historian Allison Dorsey explains how the legend of Mustapha Shaw challenges this narrative. Shaw - who escaped slavery and ran to the fight for freedom, who soldiered as one the United States Colored Troops, and who, in the face of the federal betrayal still rose to become an independent entrepreneur and landholder - encourages us to rethink the black past. Courageous, defiant, and financially savvy, Shaw represents the often overlooked first generation of black middle class land holders in the post-Civil War South.