Nicholas Lemann opens his extraordinary new book with a riveting account of the horrific events of Easter 1873 in Colfax, Louisiana, where a white militia of Confederate veterans-turned-vigilantes attacked the black community there and massacred hundreds of people in a gruesome killing spree. This was the start of an insurgency that changed the course of American history: for the next few years, white Southern Democrats waged a campaign of political terrorism aimed at overturning the 14th and 15th Amendments and challenging President Grant's support for the emergent structures of black political power. The remorseless strategy of well-financed "White Line" organizations was to create chaos and keep blacks from voting, out of fear for their lives and livelihoods. Redemption is the first book to describe in uncompromising detail this organized racial violence, which reached its apogee in Mississippi in 1875.
Lemann bases his devastating account on a wealth of military records, congressional investigations, memoirs, press reports, and the invaluable papers of Adelbert Ames, the war hero from Maine who was Mississippi's governor at the time. When Ames pleaded with Grant for federal troops who could thwart the white terrorists violently disrupting Republican political activities, Grant wavered, and the result was a bloody, corrupt election in which Mississippi was "redeemed", that is, returned to white control.
Redemption makes clear that this is what led to the death of Reconstruction and of the rights encoded in the 14th and 15th Amendments. We are still living with the consequences.
©2006 Nicholas Lemann; (P)2006 Tantor Media, Inc.
"Lemann delivers an engrossing...account of a disgraceful episode in American history." (Publishers Weekly)
"[Redemption] is an important contribution to the rewriting of Southern history that began half a century ago with C. Vann Woodward's The Strange Career of Jim Crow, and it may well have comparable influence on our understanding of one of the most shameful periods in our past." (The Washington Post)
"Written on a dramatic human scale, and leavened by some fresh research and analysis, [Redemption] is an arresting piece of popular history." (New York Times Book Review)
This is a good history and accounting of the post Civil War suffering that freed blacks had to endure, but also shows the conviction, bravery and determination that many blacks possessed during this difficult period. I liked everything except the narrator's style. Something about this book left me thinking it could have been much more effective emotionally if narrated by someone else.
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