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Jocelyn (The Reading World)

I love to read and can get very attached to my opinions, but recently I've been learning not to completely lose my head when people disagree with me, so feel safe to argue with me whenever you wish ;) 


Black Reconstruction in America by W.E.B. Du Bois: I have a suspicion that this is necessary for my education.

Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 - W.E.B. Du Bois, David Levering Lewis

I was up at 12 am last night studying for a test on the American Reconstruction, and I came upon this passage in my textbook. (The bolding, obviously, is mine.)



Vocal advocates of smaller government argued that Reconstruction had been a mistake; pressured by economic hardship, northern voters abandoned their southern Unionist allies. One of the enduring legacies of this process was the way later Americas remembered Reconstruction itself. After "Redemption," [overthrow of the Republican party by Democrats in the South], generations of schoolchidren were taught that ignorant, lazy blacks and corrupt whites had imposed illegitimate Reconstruction "regimes" in the South. White southerners won national support for their celebration of a heroic Confederacy.

One of the first historians to challenge these views was the great African American intellectual W.E.B Du Bois. In Black Reconstruction in America[this book] Du Bois meticulously documented the history of African American struggle, white vigilante violence, and national policy failure. If Reconstruction, he wrote, "had been conceived as a major national program...whose accomplishment at any price was well worth the effort, we should be living today in a different world." His words still ring true, but in 1935 historians ignored him. Not a single scholarly journal reviewed Du Bois's important book. Ex-Confederates had lost the war, but they won control over the nation's memory of the Reconstruction.

Well, nothing else can spur my curiosity faster. I generally don't have much interest in the American Reconstruction, but that tends to change when dry neutrality gives way to radical interpretation. My interest piqued, I figured that all the history geeks of GR must have gathered together to review this book. Imagine my surprise to find only 34 reviews. Still, despite that low number, by all accounts it's an important and worthwhile book, put together with the highest standards of scholarship with a willingness to forgo the coy distance that can be frustrating when trying to understand a period's legacy, especially in regards to such a relevant topic today as racism.

I also found this article which I'm currently in the process of skimming, as it's rather long and quotes extensively from Du Bois.

What interests me most about the Reconstruction was how astonishingly progressive it was. I really did not understand that in all my school years until now. Fresh out of the Civil War African Americans actually held political office in the South. Hospitals, asylums, and especially public schools were brought up to date and provided what would have been completely unimaginable opportunities a decade earlier, to blacks as well as poor whites. What happened, as best as I can gather, is that it was simply too revolutionary to sustain popular support. That's why Du Bois's statement in the quote above is so intriguing to me.

I'll probably not be looking for this book right away. The page count is intimidating and my interest in history is, as of now, flimsily developed. But I imagine that books like this are read precisely to break out of that shell, so the potential for expanded horizons is promisingly big here.