But five years before he published that opus, he presented the Walter L. Fleming Lectures in Southern History at LSU. These were published as a small book, Nothing but Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy. In this, he took a comparative tack, examining how freed people fared in other societies where slavery and similar bound labor systems had been ended, including Haiti, the British Caribbean, colonial Africa, and Russia where serfdom persisted under czars. Looking at Reconstruction in the post-Civil War South through these experiences, he notes that the permanent (if, for years, more nominal than actual) extension of voting rights to the ex-slaves made the U.S. experience essentially different. For a decade, former slaves took part in and held a share of political power in the former Confederacy. After presenting an overview, he zeroes in on strikes in the Combahee River area rice fields, showing how newly empowered ex-slaves tenaciously held on to their labor rights, even as the broader Reconstruction project was abandoned by the federal Congress.
In summary, he offers this quote which I found suggestive in another time when apparent gains for the freedom of so many us are once again under threat of cutback.
If those of us working for racial and gender justice thought we could trust gains were permanent, we've been shown to be wrong. But the battle doesn't end and new struggles may presage new gains, gains not entirely envisioned yet. Morris -- and Foner -- are onto something, something whose shape we cannot yet see, but which our actions in this time will shape.