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Heaven in the American Imagination$
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Gary Scott Smith

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199738953

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199738953.001.0001

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Slavery, the Civil War, and Heaven

Slavery, the Civil War, and Heaven

(p.87) 5 Slavery, the Civil War, and Heaven
Heaven in the American Imagination

Gary Scott Smith

Oxford University Press

American slaves, more than any other group, saw heaven through the prism of their earthly circumstances. As victims of oppression, dehumanization, and brutality, slaves rejected the portrait of heaven (and hell) painted by white Southerners and crafted their own. They depicted a joyous, beautiful, bountiful heaven characterized by rest, feasting, and lively worship. Slaves expected heaven to supply the material comforts, freedom, dignity, and opportunities denied to them on earth. The Civil War's shocking death toll and the fear of death it engendered prompted countless Americans to think about the nature of heaven and the basis of salvation. The massive separation and loss the Civil War brought led heaven to be depicted primarily as a place of family reunion. The struggle of blacks to endure antebellum slavery and of all Americans to cope with the war's carnage strongly shaped their portraits of heaven and understanding of its entrance requirements.

Keywords:   heaven, hell, Civil War, death, salvation, family reunion, freedom, slavery

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