A groundbreaking new history, telling the stories of hundreds of African-American activists and officeholders who risked their lives for equality - in the face of murderous violence - in the years after the Civil War. By 1870, just five years after Confederate surrender and 13 years after the Dred Scott decision ruled blacks ineligible for citizenship, Congressional action had ended slavery and given the vote to black men. That same year, Hiram Revels and Joseph Hayne Rainey became the first African-American U.S. senator and congressman respectively. In South Carolina, only 20 years after the death of arch-secessionist John C. Calhoun, a black man, Jasper J. Wright, took a seat on the state’s Supreme Court. Not even the most optimistic abolitionists thought such milestones would occur in their lifetimes. The brief years of Reconstruction marked the United States’ most progressive moment prior to the civil rights movement. Previous histories of Reconstruction have focused on Washington politics. But in this sweeping, prodigiously researched narrative, Douglas Egerton brings a much bigger, even more dramatic story into view, exploring state and local politics and tracing the struggles of some 1,500 African-American officeholders, in both the North and South, who fought entrenched white resistance. Tragically, their movement was met by ruthless violence - not just riotous mobs, but also targeted assassination. With stark evidence, Egerton shows that Reconstruction, often cast as a “failure” or a doomed experiment, was rolled back by murderous force. The Wars of Reconstruction is a major and provocative contribution to American history.
©2014 Douglas R. Egerton (P)2014 Audible Inc.
"The history of [the] era [of Reconstruction] has rarely if ever been as well told as it is in Douglas R. Egerton's forcefully argued and crisply written The Wars of Reconstruction. Mr. Egerton presents a sometimes inspiring but more often deeply shocking story that reveals the nation at its best and worst." (The Wall Street Journal)
"Egerton’s study is an adept exploration of a past era of monumental relevance to the present and is recommended for any student of political conflict, social upheaval, and the perennial struggle against oppression." (Publishers Weekly)
"A richly detailed history…An illuminating view of an era whose reform spirit would live on in the 1960s civil rights movement." ( Kirkus Reviews)
This was a compelling story about Reconstruction. It does not touch much beyond the social issues of reconstruction and its effects on the South. What the story excels at is showing the promise of the post Civil War reforms and how those reforms were ultimately rolled back by the South still fighting for its old order. Rather than move forward from the Civil War, the South regressed back to many of its problems and put off true social change for 100 years.
Particularly helpful is the way the book went beyond the 1880's and includes how the historians and fictional writers of the early 20th century tried to rewrite Reconstruction as a vengeful act of a few northern Republicans. Civil rights were not revenge. They were a right for the southern citizens and this book explains how close we were to that change and then how it was all rolled back.
I enjoyed the book and learned more about the time period. I wish the author had spent some more time on the northern social issues during this time. To put little focus on them leaves out the southern argument that Reconstruction was imposing a social order on the South that the North did not have.
Read it with The Half Has Never Been Told and Slavery By Another Name to completely alter and deepen your understanding of our history from the beginning of slavery to the present.
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