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Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880

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The pioneering work in the study of the role of Black Americans during Reconstruction by the most influential Black intellectual of his time.

746 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1935

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About the author

W.E.B. Du Bois

459 books1,184 followers
In 1868, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (pronounced 'doo-boyz') was born in Massachusetts. He attended Fisk College in Nashville, then earned his BA in 1890 and his MS in 1891 from Harvard. Du Bois studied at the University of Berlin, then earned his doctorate in history from Harvard in 1894. He taught economics and history at Atlanta University from 1897-1910. The Souls of Black Folk (1903) made his name, in which he urged black Americans to stand up for their educational and economic rights. Du Bois was a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and edited the NAACP's official journal, "Crisis," from 1910 to 1934. Du Bois turned "Crisis" into the foremost black literary journal. The black nationalist expanded his interests to global concerns, and is called the "father of Pan-Africanism" for organizing international black congresses.

Although he used some religious metaphor and expressions in some of his books and writings, Du Bois called himself a freethinker. In "On Christianity," a posthumously published essay, Du Bois critiqued the black church: "The theology of the average colored church is basing itself far too much upon 'Hell and Damnation'—upon an attempt to scare people into being decent and threatening them with the terrors of death and punishment. We are still trained to believe a good deal that is simply childish in theology. The outward and visible punishment of every wrong deed that men do, the repeated declaration that anything can be gotten by anyone at any time by prayer." Du Bois became a member of the Communist Party and officially repudiated his U.S. citizenship at the end of his life, dying in his adopted country of Ghana. D. 1963.

More: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/t...




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Profile Image for Raymond.
338 reviews247 followers
December 6, 2020
This summer I read Henry Louis Gates’s book Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow. It was really good but after I finished it I still wanted to learn more about Reconstruction. Gates in his book mentioned that the two books that shaped his views on the Reconstruction period were W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America and Rayford Logan’s The Betrayal of the Negro. I decided to buy both and started with the oldest book published in 1935.

Du Bois published Black Reconstruction in America (BRIA) 85 years ago. At the time it was a monumental achievement, 85 years later it is still very much so. Du Bois wrote this work, with the help of a $6,250 grant ($109,492 in 2019 dollars), as a direct response to the Dunning School’s view of the period of Reconstruction (1865–1876). The Dunning School held racist and negative views of Reconstruction; its scholars called it a failure and blamed its lack of success on Black people. Du Bois’s book challenges this faulty school of thought.

Here are some of my thoughts on BRIA:

-BRIA begins by explicitly stating that slavery was the cause of the Civil War, and uses primary documents from the time to make this fact clear.

-Throughout the book Du Bois continuously comes back to his belief that the Black and White worker should have united against the capitalist planter class and that poor Whites decided not to do that because their whiteness was more important to them than their class. Also the White elite drilled into them that their whiteness made them better than Blacks. Some poor Whites did align with Blacks during the Populist movement of the 1880s/1890s, but Du Bois believed that effort was too little too late. As I read this, I found it interesting to see how much that dynamic has not changed much.

-The book contains many quotes from primary sources, so much so that the reader will noticed that full pages are direct quotations from notable leaders at the time (i.e. Thaddeus Stevens, Carl Schurz, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Sumner, Rutherford Hayes, lesser known Black officeholders, etc.) Quotes on the importance of voting and equality resonated with me, such as this one:

“There is no power on earth or in hell that can deprive the black man of his right to vote.” -Thomas Bayne, Black Delegate to 1868 Virginia Constitutional Convention

-Du Bois does a great job of showing Lincoln’s complexities, Lincoln was not only the Great Emancipator but he also advocated for colonization and segregation rather than full blown equality. On the flip side, Lincoln also supported education and suffrage for Blacks in some Southern states like Louisiana.

-The Black Codes that were implemented after the Civil War was a legal form of slavery; Du Bois shows that even Dunning agreed that the Codes discriminated against the newly freed people.

-Chapter 8 “The Transubstantiation of a Poor White” is probably one of the most interesting chapters in the book. In it Du Bois shows how Andrew Johnson’s views changed from being a poor White who hated the Southern planter aristocracy before the Civil War, to being their strongest defender once he became President, all because the former planters flattered him. Throughout his tenure Johnson was staunchly against Black suffrage.

-The book also covers the rise of the Southern Conventions in 1867-1868, which were established by federal law and whose purpose was to adopt new constitutions in order for the Southern states to officially be readmitted into the Union. These conventions wrote constitutions that “provided for equal civil rights” and “established universal suffrage”.

-The next fascinating set of chapters were Chs.10–13 which covers how each Southern and Border state reconstructed their governments after the Civil War. Many of the delegates who wrote and voted on the new constitutions were Black. In these chapters, Du Bois counters the Dunning school myths that Blacks were in complete control of the governments and that state funds were misused by them. Du Bois does acknowledge that Black leaders took bribes at the time but states they only did it because they were poor and ignorant as a result of slavery. Du Bois in turn praises the Black legislators of the South using primary sources that show they were honorable public servants. As I read these chapters I continued to be amazed as to how many Black legislators in this period of time were former slaves just three or four years earlier, many who could not read or write at the time that they held power. Du Bois argues that they were ordinary men doing extraordinary things. They were not primarily responsible for the corruption that occurred during this period, which was mostly the fault of White leaders. Du Bois is very persuasive when he shares how the corruption narrative changed overtime. The original narrative was that Northern and Southern White men were the culprits and that Blacks were used as tools; however when the planters and poor Whites gained power after Reconstruction the corruption blame was placed solely at the hands of the Black leaders. The White leaders then used this new narrative as the rationale for stripping political power from Blacks in the South.

-Another major achievement that Black Reconstruction leaders made was the creation of the Southern public school system which did not exist before the Civil War, even Dunning agreed it was a success. Chapter 15 covers how this system was founded across the Southern states during their constitutional conventions. Some states established integrated schools while others had segregated schools. It was really interesting to learn that it cost more money to have segregated schools rather than integrated schools. Segregated schools also hurt both White and Black children, although Black children’s education suffered more.

-Du Bois shows that Reconstruction ended in the 1870s through White supremacist violence and “real” election/voter fraud against Blacks. I found Du Bois’s explanation for racial hatred among members of the White mob very telling, he said that it existed because the poor White was concerned about their status in society and were economically anxious. Again I say, has anything changed?

-At times this book can be repetitive and may probably be too long for today’s average reader, it’s over 700 pages. I think a concise abridged version of this book would be beneficial to interested readers.

Overall, Du Bois argues that Reconstruction could have brought much more equality if it had not been ended abruptly by White Supremacists, if Blacks had been given more land, and if the poor White worker had aligned themselves with the Black worker instead of feeling threatened by them. At times Du Bois seems to be asking where America would be in 1935 if things had worked out ok. I read this book in 2020 asking the same question. Where would we be today on the issues of race and civil rights if we got it right the first time?

Ultimately, BRIA is a fascinating history of a period of time that is seldom taught well in school. BRIA is one of those classics where you see recurring themes in our current moment. Du Bois’s magnum opus must be read by those who want a more accurate history of the Reconstruction era rather than the “propaganda” promoted by the Dunning School of scholars.

If you would like to read this book, but reading a 700+ page tome sounds intimidating and daunting then please check out The Readin Series, this collaboration of thespians recently finished an online marathon reading of BRIA. https://www.youtube.com/c/TheReadInSe...

This review was first published in Ballasts for the Mind: https://medium.com/ballasts-for-the-m...
Profile Image for Christy.
113 reviews275 followers
January 26, 2017
This is the book that made me realize how we in the US failed both Blacks and our democracy (by undermining equality) when we let Reconstruction fail so miserably after the Civil War.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
917 reviews947 followers
February 7, 2017
A truly extraordinary work. Beautifully written, cogently and convincingly argued. Passionate and powerful and vital. Read it.

"Some Americans think and say that the nation freed the black slave and gave him a vote and that, unable to use it intelligently, he lost it. That is not so. To win the war America freed the slave and armed him; and the threat to arm the mass of the black workers of the Confederacy stopped the war. Nor does this fact for a moment deny that some prophets and martyrs demanded first and last the abolition of slavery as the sole object of the war and at any cost of life and wealth.
So, too, some Americans demanded not simply physical freedom but votes, land, and education for blacks, not only in order to compass the economic emancipation of labor, but also as the only fulfillment of American democratic ideals; but most Americans used the Negro to defend their own economic interests and, refusing him adequate land and real education and even common justice, deserted him shamelessly as soon as their selfish interests were safe. "

"Reconstruction, therefore, in the South degenerated into a fight of rivals to control property and through that to control the labor vote. This rivalry between dictators led to graft and corruption as they bid against each other for the vote of the Negro, while meantime Negro labor in its ignorance and poverty was agonizing for ways of escape. Northern capital compromised, and Southern capital accepted race hate and black disfranchisement as a permanent program of exploitation."


Still in mid-read, but wanted to share this, not least for how relevant to the last few months it seems:

“Above this lowest mass rose a middle class of poor whites in the making. There were some small farmers who had more than a mere sustenance and yet were not large planters. There were overseers. There was a growing class of merchants who traded with the slaves and free Negroes and became in many cases larger traders, dealing with the planters for the staple crops. Some poor whites rose to the professional class, so that the rift between the planters and the mass of the whites was partially bridged by this smaller intermediate class.

While revolt against the domination of the planters over the poor whites was voiced by men like Helper, who called for a class struggle to destroy the planters, this was nullified by deep-rooted antagonism to the Negro, whether slave or free. If black labor could be expelled from the United States or eventually exterminated, then the fight against the planter could take place. But the poor whites and their leaders could not for a moment contemplate a fight of united white and black labor against the exploiters. Indeed, the natural leaders of the poor whites, the small farmer, the merchant, the professional man, the white mechanic and slave overseer, were bound to the planters and repelled from the slaves and even from the mass of the white laborers in two ways: first, they constituted the police patrol who could ride with planters and now and then exercise unlimited force upon recalcitrant or runaway slaves; and then, too, there was always a chance that they themselves might also become planters by saving money, by investment, by the power of good luck; and the only heaven that attracted them was the life of the great Southern planter.”

And this, longer, but so beautifully written I could not dare cut a word, and which also seems painfully worth reading during our present times:

"This brings us down to the period of the Civil War. Up to the time that the war actually broke out, American labor simply refused, in the main, to envisage black labor as a part of its problem. Right up to the edge of the war, it was talking about the emancipation of white labor and the organization of stronger unions without saying a word, or apparently giving a thought, to four million black slaves. During the war, labor was resentful. Workers were forced to fight in a strife between capitalists in which they had no interest and they showed their resentment in the peculiarly human way of beating and murdering the innocent victims of it all, the black free Negroes of New York and other Northern cities; while in the South, five million non-slaveholding poor white farmers and laborers sent their manhood by the thousands to fight and die for a system that had degraded them equally with the black slave. Could one imagine anything more paradoxical than this whole situation?

America thus stepped forward in the first blossoming of the modern age and added to the Art of Beauty, gift of the Renaissance, and to Freedom of Belief, gift of Martin Luther and Leo X, a vision of democratic self-government: the domination of political life by the intelligent decision of free and self-sustaining men. What an idea and what an area for its realization — endless land of richest fertility, natural resources such as Earth seldom exhibited before, a population infinite in variety, of universal gift, burned in the fires of poverty and caste, yearning toward the Unknown God; and self-reliant pioneers, unafraid of man or devil. It was the Supreme Adventure, in the last Great Battle of the West, for that human freedom which would release the human spirit from lower lust for mere meat, and set it free to dream and sing.

And then some unjust God leaned, laughing, over the ramparts of heaven and dropped a black man in the midst.

It transformed the world. It turned democracy back to Roman Imperialism and Fascism; it restored caste and oligarchy; it replaced freedom with slavery and withdrew the name of humanity from the vast majority of human beings.

But not without struggle. Not without writhing and rending of spirit and pitiable wail of lost souls. They said: Slavery was wrong but not all wrong; slavery must perish and not simply move; God made black men; God made slavery; the will of God be done; slavery to the glory of God and black men as his servants and ours; slavery as a way to freedom — the freedom of blacks, the freedom of whites; white freedom as the goal of the world and black slavery as the path thereto. Up with the white world, down with the black!

Then came this battle called Civil War, beginning in Kansas in 1854, and ending in the presidential election of 1876 — twenty awful years. The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery. The whole weight of America was thrown to color caste. The colored world went down before England, France, Germany, Russia, Italy and America. A new slavery arose. The upward moving of white labor was betrayed into wars for profit based on color caste. Democracy died save in the hearts of black folk.

Indeed, the plight of the white working class throughout the world today is directly traceable to Negro slavery in America, on which modern commerce and industry was founded, and which persisted to threaten free labor until it was partially overthrown in 1863. The resulting color caste founded and retained by capitalism was adopted, forwarded and approved by white labor, and resulted in subordination of colored labor to white profits the world over. Thus the majority of the world's laborers, by the insistence of white labor, became the basis of a system of industry which ruined democracy and showed its perfect fruit in World War and Depression. And this book seeks to tell that story. "

E-readers can find the whole book here https://archive.org/details/blackreco...
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,657 followers
March 9, 2019
I've read lots of parts of this book--especially in the research for my book, but I just finally read it start to finish and it was just really depressing. I think DuBois is one of America's greatest writers and thinkers. Note: not, "best *black* writer." No caveats. He called out the Reconstruction myth before the modern revisionists. He studies and tracked and called out racism and capitalism. All of our race vs. class flights that we think we just invented, he already discussed that. DuBois figured it all out a long time ago and no one listened so he had to leave to Ghana. We didn't deserve him
Profile Image for Mara.
1,562 reviews3,774 followers
November 19, 2020
Wow. I just finished the audiobook & am now waiting for my physical copy to arrive so that I can reread & annotate, if that tells you anything about how I feel about this book. I am honestly floored by the combination of the beautiful prose, the strong historiographical critique, and the core moral voice that shines through on every page, and I'm truly angry that this was not a book required for me to encounter at some point in my education. This is the book that should be foundational to how the American Civil War and Reconstruction period are taught to Americans, and yet we continue to receive the narratives he so eloquently deconstructs in the final chapter of this book. This is one of the best, most prophetic histories I've ever read and I cannot wait to spend more time diving into it.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,053 reviews3,461 followers
December 17, 2022
This is a beast but well worth the effort. Black Reconstruction in America is a well-researched piece of non-fiction documenting the Reconstruction era in the American south post-Civil War. This book should really be taught in schools.

Du Bois brilliantly argues that the outcome of the period did not have to be what it was, particularly if poor white people had worked WITH newly free Black people to improve working conditions for everyone. Instead, racism was used as a wedge to give poor whites a sense of superiority in place of livable wages. That's one small piece of what this does but it's wild- reading a book published in 1935, living in 2022 and STILL seeing a clear throughline of the consequences of decisions made by Southern states during the Reconstruction period. Those things echo all the way through to the modern day and we're still contending with issues Du Bois called out nearly a century ago. Highly recommend reading this.
Profile Image for Colin.
710 reviews21 followers
July 31, 2007
Wow. This book is monumental. It took me weeks to read it, and it was completely worth it. Du Bois provides an exhaustively detailed account of the Reconstruction years, delves into the foundations of public education, and, with solid economic/Marxist analysis, thoroughly repudiates the previously published work on the period. In my provincial middle and high school education, the Reconstruction period got nary a mention, and this book more than makes up for that. I was very glad for the internet, as the book, published in 1935, was written in such a way as to make references to people and events as though the reader is already familiar with them. I ended up doing quite a bit of extra research just to be able to understand Du Bois' references. All in all, a pivotal historical work.
Profile Image for Canon.
638 reviews64 followers
January 22, 2023
"It would be only fair to the reader to say frankly in advance that the attitude of any person toward this story will be distinctly influenced by his theories of the Negro race. If he believes that the Negro in America and in general is an average and ordinary human being, who under given environment develops like other human beings, then he will read this story and judge it by the facts adduced. If, however, he regards the Negro as a distinctly inferior creation, who can never successfully take part in modern civilization and whose emancipation and enfranchisement were gestures against nature, then he will need something more than the sort of facts that I have set down. But this latter person, I am not trying to convince. I am simply pointing out these two points of view, so obvious to Americans, and then without further ado, I am assuming the truth of the first. In fine, I am going to tell this story as though Negroes were ordinary human beings, realizing that this attitude will from the first seriously curtail my audience," (Note to the Reader, December 1934).

As a history of Reconstruction from the perspective that "Negroes were ordinary human beings," written in a time when the historiography of Reconstruction was dominated by the Dunning School's view that the "Negro [is] a distinctly inferior creation, who can never successfully take part in modern civilization," this book is a classic of American political thought. It challenged the racist, pro-Confederacy interpretations of Reconstruction prevailing in the 1930s, and was instantly recognized as a text that, as David Levering Lewis notes in the introduction, no scholar who claimed to understand the period could miss.

Du Bois asks, "Assuming... as axiomatic the endless inferiority of the Negro race [as these newer, mostly Southerners historians do]... what need to waste time delving into his Reconstruction history?" (727). Accordingly, these historians "ignore the Negro as completely as possible... in loyalty to a lost cause... and fidelity to the ideals of a clan and class." As a result, what "American children are taught [circa 1935] about Reconstruction [is]... (1) all Negros were ignorant... (2) all Negroes were lazy, dishonest and extravagant... and (3) Negroes were responsible for bad government during Reconstruction," (711).

But Du Bois radically assumes the opposite, that "Negros were ordinary human beings" who played a central part in the story of their liberation and national Reconstruction. Accordingly, he must "delve into [their] Reconstruction history" and show how "black Prometheus bound to the Rock of Ages by hate, hurt and humiliation, has his vitals eaten out as they grow, yet lives and fights," (670).

The result of his painstaking delving is this roughly 750 page book. The bulk of it consists in careful documentary analyses of Reconstruction governments in rebel states. Du Bois frequently expands on the minutiae of Congressional and state legislative proceedings and the nitty-gritty details of political maneuvering. Entire pages of primary source material are sometimes quoted. I will admit that as necessary as this extended analysis is to Du Bois's project, and despite his wonderful prose, much of this was a slog to read. And partly as a result of the fact that the same violently racist and corrupt actions were happening in all the former Confederate states during Reconstruction, the book can often feel repetitive.

Because of this, I often found myself wishing that I were reading an abridged version of the text, one that would distill its central arguments in a more direct form. I would bet that most readings of this text (in classrooms and seminars) are de facto abridged, via assigned excerpts.

For its clear statement of Du Bois's overall argument in the book and his theoretical orientations, I would say that the key chapter is the last, "The Propaganda of History." Du Bois emphasizes the power of historical education in this chapter, making it strikingly relevant to current political battles over who gets to determine the history taught in schools. Should it be those who, through state power, promote a reactionary historiography that dogmatically denies "the belief [that] there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them" (as Ron DeSantis's general counsel defined "wokism" to a Tallahassee judge), so that they can promote their own conservative ideology without opposition? Or should it be those citizens who wish to tell in the classroom and in books of "the triumph of sheer moral courage and sacrifice in the abolition crusade, [or] the hurt and struggle of degraded black millions in their fight for freedom and their attempt to enter democracy," (715)?

In chapter 14, "Counter Revolution of Property," Du Bois writes, "Charles Sumner did not realize, and that other Charles — Karl Marx — had not yet published Das Kapital to prove to men that economic power underlies politics." As a result, "Abolitionists failed to see that after the momentary exaltation of war, the nation did not want Negros to have civil rights and that national industry could get its way easier by alliance with Southern landholders than by sustaining Southern workers. They did not know that when they let the dictatorship of labor be overthrown in the South they surrendered the hope of democracy in America for all men," (591-92).

This passage points a key theme of the book: the relationship of economic power to democracy and authoritarianism, and the economic underpinnings of racist ideology in America (on this latter point, compare Ibram X. Kendi's account of racist ideologies).

Strikingly, Du Bois describes slaves' escape from plantations and their joining the Union army as a labor strike against the aristocracy of the South. This framework enables Du Bois to connect slavery in the United States to the global exploitation of labor in the early 20th century in which he writes, and to see all of these movements as fundamentally a contest between a democracy of laborers and the totalitarian rule of imperial plutocrats. It also allows him to highlight a central tragedy of Reconstruction: how racist fury and propaganda in the South as well as the North undercut the possibility of labor solidarity between Blacks and Whites against elites. He also astutely shows how entanglement in metaphysical, abstract arguments over the Constitution or Tradition or Reason was typically a way to evade common sense solutions to unprecedented problems. "Common sense" was eclipsed by racist logic.

Du Bois makes the arguments that "the Civil War was really about economic power, not slavery" or "the Civil War was really about preserving the Union, not slavery" seem embarrasingly simplistic. No, the Civil War was fought over slavery, precisely because it was fought over economic power, and precisely because it was fought over democracy. For the economic power of the South and the prosperity of the globe was built on slave labor, the complete negation of democracy.

— — — — — — — —

A few incredible passages that showcase the power of Du Bois's rhetoric and insights:

Congressional amendments of every sort poured into Congress concerning the national and Confederate debt, the civil rights of freedmen, the establishment of republican government, the basis of representation, payment for slaves and the future powers of Federal government and the states. Argument swirled in a maelstrom of logic. No matter where it started, and how far afield in legal metaphysics it strayed, always it returned and had to return to two focal points: Shall the South be rewarded for unsuccessful secession by increased political power; and: Can the freed Negro be a part of American democracy?

Thither all argument again and again returned; but it tried desperately to crowd out these real points by appealing to higher constitutional metaphysics. This constitutional argument was astonishing. Around and around it went in dizzy, silly dialectics. Here were grown, sensible men arguing about a written form of government adopted ninety years before, when men did not believe that slavery could outlive their generation in this country, or that civil war could possibly be its result; when no man foresaw the Industrial Revolution or the rise of the Cotton Kingdom; and yet now, with incantation and abracadabra, the leaders of a nation tried to peer back into the magic crystal, and out of a bit of paper called the Constitution, find eternal and immutable law laid down for their guidance forever and ever, Amen ! They knew perfectly well that no such omniscient law existed or ever had existed. Yet, in order to conceal the fact, they twisted and distorted and argued...(267-68).


How is it that men who want certain things done by brute force can so often depend upon the mob? Total depravity, human hate and Schadenfreude, do not explain fully the mob spirit in America. Before the wide eyes of the mob is ever the Shape of Fear. Back of the writhing, yelling, cruel-eyed demons who break, destroy, maim and lynch and burn at the stake, is a knot, large or small, of normal human beings, and these human beings at heart are desperately afraid of something. Of what? Of many things, but usually of losing their jobs, being declassed, degraded, or actually disgraced; of losing their hopes, their savings, their plans for their children; of the actual pangs of hunger, of dirt, of crime. And of all this, most ubiquitous in modern industrial society is that fear of unemployment. It is its nucleus of ordinary men that continually gives the mob its initial and awful impetus. Around this nucleus, to be sure, gather snowball-wise all manner of flotsam, filth and human garbage, and every lewdness of alcohol and current fashion. But all this is the horrible covering of this inner nucleus of Fear (678).


The white people of the South are essentially a fine kindly breed, the same sort of human beings that one finds the world over. Perhaps their early and fatal mistake was when they refused long before the Civil War to allow in the South differences of opinion. They would not let honest white Southerners continue to talk against slavery. They drove out the non-conformist; they would not listen to the radical. The result was that there has been built up in the South an intolerance fatal to human culture. Men act as they do in the South, they murder, they lynch, they insult, because they listen to but one side of a question. They seldom know by real human contact Negroes who are men. They read books that laud the South and the "Lost Cause," but they are childish and furious when criticized, and interpret all criticism as personal attack (704).


One reads the truer deeper facts of Reconstruction with a great despair. It is at once so simple and human, and yet so futile. There is no villain, no idiot, no saint. There are just men; men who crave ease and power, men who know want and hunger, men who have crawled. They all dream and strive with ecstasy of fear and strain of effort, balked of hope and hate. Yet the rich world is wide enough for all, wants all, needs all. So slight a gesture, a word, might set the strife in order, not with full content, but with growing dawn of fulfillment. Instead roars the crash of hell; and after its whirlwind a teacher sits in academic halls, learned in the tradition of its elms and its elders. He looks into the upturned face of youth and in him youth sees the gowned shape of wisdom and hears the voice of God. Cynically he sneers at "chinks" and "niggers." He says that the nation "has changed its views in regard to the political relation of races and has at last virtually accepted the ideas of the South upon that subject. The white men of the South need now have no further fear that the Republican party, or Republican Administrations, will ever again give themselves over to the vain imagination of the political equality of man."

Immediately in Africa, a black back runs red with the blood of the lash; in India, a brown girl is raped; in China, a coolie starves; in Alabama, seven darkies are more than lynched; while in London, the white limbs of a prostitute are hung with jewels and silk. Flames of jealous murder sweep the earth, while brains of little children smear the hills.

This is education in the Nineteen Hundred and Thirty-fifth year of the Christ; this is modern and exact social science; this is the university course in "History 12" set down by the Senatus academicus ; ad quos hae literae pervenerint : Salutem in Domino, sempeternam! (728)
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,308 reviews758 followers
October 18, 2017
It would not have been American, however, not to have maintained some color discrimination, however petty.

Broken limbs, broken heads, the mangling of bodies, all prove that it was a contest between enraged men: on the one side from hatred to a race; and on the other, desire for self-preservation, revenge for past grievances and the inhuman murder of their comrades.

How extraordinary, and what a tribute to ignorance and religious hypocrisy, is the fact that in the minds of most people, even those of liberals, only murder makes men. The slave pleaded; he was humble; he protected the women of the South, and the world ignored him. The slave killed white men; and behold, he was a man!

In fine, I am going to tell this story as though Negroes were ordinary human beings, realizing that this attitude will from the first seriously curtail my audience.

All observers spoke of the fact that the slaves were slow and churlish; that they wasted material and malingered at their work. Of course, they did. This was not racial but economic. It was the answer of any group of laborers forced down to the last ditch. They might be made to work continuously but no power could make them work well.

The whites might give suffrage to the Negroes, but if the Negroes gave suffrage to the whites, it would result in the Negro losing it.

Here were grown, sensible men arguing about a written form of government adopted ninety years before, when men did not believe that slavery could outlive their generation in this country, or that civil war could possibly be its result; when no man foresaw the Industrial Revolution or the rise of the Cotton Kingdom; and yet now, with incantation and abracadabra, the leaders of the nation tried to peer back into the magic crystal, and out of a bit of paper called the Constitution, find eternal and immutable law laid down for their guidance forever and ever, Amen!
It often falls that the books that are most defended are the ones who least need such action. Criticize an enshrined whit eboy book of status quo bliss, and you've poked the hornets nest of angry white masculine entitled fragility, wherein at least one individual will make an account on whether digitally communicative medium you've chosen in order to threaten you with rape. For the books that don't bathe in such reactionary waters, there is the tightrope of too much criticism can kill the past and too little can stifle the future. I want, and to extent need, the follow up to Du Bois' views with the black woman's perspective, the indigenous perspective, the Asian perspective,
the blue collar perspective, and every entailing diversification that necessarily resists within such categories, for the assumptions of land division in a settler state and black women who built the first schools whom Du Bois doesn't see fit to name and the unknown sex worker framed at the very conclusion as the antichrist are all gaping wounds in what is some of the best and bravest analysis I've read in years. This book won me over to the point of my declaring it a favorite,
but it is a favorite only for what may come of it.
It made little difference what laws were made so long as their interpretation by the courts and administration was dictated by capital.

[F]or 250 years the Negroes had worked on this land, and by every analogy in history, when they were emancipated the land ought to have belonged in large part to the workers.

Take out the accusation of being black, which is still a crime in the United States, and there remains in such tirades as this only a protest against ignorance and poverty presuming to rule intelligence and wealth; and yet, under the circumstances, how else was the necessary economic and social revolution to be effected?

When citizens undertake to claim a right for themselves, they must claim it as a principle, and therefore speak in the name of all who are deprived of the same immunities. As long as they do not consider the question from a high standpoint, as long as they overlook the principle for a mere expediency, they will have no force whatever.

If the Northern fanatics are the means with which God wishes to confer upon us these rights, I will take the rights whether they or the devil brought them to us. I know that we have them.

It may be said, then, that the argument for giving the right to vote to the mass of the poor and ignorant still stands as defensible, without for a moment denying that there should not be such a class in a civilized community; but if the class is there, the fault is the fault of the community and the community must suffer and pay for it.

If the majority did not want Negro rule, or Negro participation in government, the majority was right, and they would not allow themselves to stop and ask how that majority was made.

The freedmen are peaceable and inoffensive; yet if the whites continue to make it all their lives are worth to go through the country, as free people have the right to do, they will goad them to that point at which submission and patience cease to be a virtue.

In a republic, the people precede their government.

The break was begun by the extraordinary corruption, graft and theft that became more and more evident in the country from 1868 on, as a result of the wild idea that industry and progress for the people of the United States were compatible with the selfish sequestration of profit for private individuals and powerful corporations.
The concept of time hand in hand with progress is a lie. Correlation does not imply causation. There were probably more black people in office in 1870's US than there is in 2010's US, and the glazed and artificial timeline spouted off in public conceptions is nothing but the result of systematic erasure through indoctrination in education and murder in the streets. If there were as many defenders of this book as there is of favorable perceptions of King and King Jr's upcoming collaboration, I would not have my time wasted with others' assumptions that all these ideas of imperialism and military/prison industrial complex and school to prison pipeline are very new and very modern and very chic and thus, logically enough, have not yet torn down their master's house. There could have been land reformation à la Mao and Soviet Russia with former slaves as the beneficiaries, and words of those who say it was a good thing that that didn't happen are worth nothing if they're the type to think upon what would it be like had Hitler won. Marxism and colonialism and workers unite were all old news, and the fact that feminism is given short shrift despite the genderless implications of the n-word and the implications of settler state in conjunction with ownership of land are given none may be chalked up to the author, but not to the point of giving this title any less time than is given to far more hateful and mainstream sucking texts. As stated, I value this text for its potential as a crosroads, not out of any misguided sense of perfection, and the fact that I don't offer much concrete evidence of this is because the sheer wealth of quotes that I give in the margins make such efforts redundant. The text is more than capable of speaking for itself; th eproblem lies with the centuries of the powerful chronologically disjointing it and claiming that these issues may be looked at now but must be resolved much, much, much later. W.E.B. Du Bois survived the KKK from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement and still wasn't given the payment he was due. How much more time do you need to surmount your coddle entitlement for the sake of human beings?
No more idiotic program could be laid down than to require a people follow a written rule of government 90 years old, if that rule had been definitely broken in order to preserve the unity of the government and to destroy an economic anachronism. In such a crisis legalists may insist that consistency with precedent is more important than firm and far-sighted rebuilding. But manifestly, it is not. Rule-following, legal precedence, and political consistency are not more important than right, justice and plain commonsense.

Here then came a plain question of definition: was it a crime, in the judgment of the people of the United States in 1867, for a President to block the overwhelming will of a successful majority of voters during a period of nearly three years?

[N]o history is accurate and no “political science” scientific that starts with the gratuitous assumption that the Negro race has been proven incapable of modern civilization.

During the organization of the convention, it was moved that the word “colored” be added to the name of each Negro delegate. Thereupon, the Reverend James Lynch, a colored man, afterward Secretary of State, moved to amend it so that the color of each delegate’s hair should be added also.

There was here as in South Carolina the same charge against this convention and against succeeding legislatures, that they did not sufficiently represent wealth; they represented poverty; and the majority of the members, white and black, were not taxpayers. They represented labor, and were voting and working as far as they intelligently could to improve their condition and not to increase the profits of the hirers of labor.

The dictatorship of property, as represented by the wild freebooting from the close of the war to the panic, had proven to many minds that free competition in industry was not going to bring proper control and development.

Great corporations, through their control of new capital, began to establish a super-government. On the one hand, they crushed the robber-barons, the thieves and the grafters, and thus appeased those of the old school who demanded the old standards of personal honesty. Secondly, they made treaty with the petty bourgeoisie by guarantying them reasonable and certain income from their investments, while they gradually deprived them of real control in industry. And finally, they made treaty with labor by dealing with it as a powerful, determined unit and dividing it up into skilled union labor, with which the new industry shared profit in the shape of higher wage and other privileges, and a great reservoir of common and foreign labor which it kept at work at low wages with the threat of starvation and with police control.

It was not, then, that the post-bellum South could not produce wealth with free labor; it was the far more fundamental question as to whom this wealth was to belong to and for whose interests laborers were to work.

The charge against the poor, frequent as it always is in democratic movements, is not valid. The first attempt of a democracy which includes the previously disenfranchised poor is to redistribute wealth and income, and this is exactly what the black South attempted. The theory is that the wealth and the current income of the wealthy ruling class does not belong to them entirely, but is the product of the work and striving of the great millions; and that, therefore, these millions ought to have a voice in its more equitable distribution. And if this is true in modern countries, like France and England and Germany, how much more true was it in the South after the war where the poorest class represented the most extreme case of theft of labor that the world can conceive; namely, chattel slavery?
On the other hand, there is not the slightest doubt but that the South had a right to demand of the nation that the whole of the burden of this readjustment of wealth should not fall upon the planters; guilty as they were of supreme exploitation of labor, their guilt was shared by the rest of the nation, just as the rest of the nation had for centuries shared the profits of the slave system. It would have been fair and just for the cost of emancipating the slaves and giving them land to be equitably shared by the whole of the United States.

It may be contended that the presence of a mass of unlettered and inexperienced voters in a state makes bribery and graft easier and more capable of misuse by malign elements. This is true. But the question is, is the situation any better if ignorance and poverty are permanently disenfranchised? The whole answer of modern industrial conditions is—no, it is not. And the only alternative, therefore, is the one continually urged by Sumner, Philips and Stevens: if ignorance is dangerous—instruct it. If poverty is the cause of stealing and crime, increase the income of the masses.

Southerners argued that if the Negro was disenfranchised, normal political life would be possible for the South. They did not realize that a living working class can never lose its political power and that all they did in 1876 was to transfer that political power from the hands of labor to the hands of capital, where it has been concentrated ever since.

Our histories tend to discuss American slavery so impartially, that in the end nobody seems to have done wrong and everybody was right.

He was trained to make profits. He used his profits to write history.
My definition of a favorite includes books that, upon finishing, I find that I am yet again at the beginning of the ethical road I have committed myself to. This book kicked my ass for nearly two months, and while I will never forgive Du Bois for his treatment of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, I acknowledge an essential classic of vital necessity to all times and all peoples when I see one. Some would argue that the bitter anger and incendiary sarcasm that creep up amidst the litanies of facts and figures compromise the work. I argue that if criticizers along this line paid as much attention to the hatred and brainwashing inherently tied up in a text's bigotry, the world would be a better place. The fact that it is not does not guarantee that it will be in the future. It is simply the result of conscientious and malicious power grabbing along the lines of capitalism using every associated hierarchy, culminating in false histories spewed out by those who survive by being the richest, the whitest, the most sadistic, and ultimately the luckiest. The time for teaching others was done long ago, if indeed there was ever a time when the murdered had to pause long during their being murdered to teach their murderers; the fact that certain states of existence are still taken for granted is a matter of fortune, not an insurance of what form the repercussions to come will take.
We were eight years in power.
Profile Image for Dan.
125 reviews
December 23, 2008
DuBois' massive Black Reconstruction is a challenging read, but well worth the effort and time.

Before this book, mainstream American history portrayed Black slaves as passive recipients of the gift of freedom, and blamed them for the failure of the Reconstruction governments.

DuBois turned this analysis around, and showed how four million Black people won their own freedom, won the right to vote, and started to build a real American democracy in the wake of the Civil War before Southern and Northern whites betrayed their experiment.

An early highlight of the book is DuBois' chapters on the "General Strike" and "The Coming of the Lord," where he describes how slaves deserted the fields, flocked to the Union armies, took up arms, and fought for their own freedom in the hundreds of thousands.

The best part of the book, though, was DuBois' in-depth look at how Southern whites tried to re-enslave African Americans after the war, and how African Americans won the right to vote. His analysis of the temporary alliance between Blacks and abolitionists, and Northern capital, was fascinating.

Throughout, DuBois treats the movement among African Americans as essential part of the US labor movement--and points out the weakness of the sections of the white labor movement that tried to grow by excluding or ignoring the Black movement.

He quotes from some sources at length, and these can slow you down. But overall the style of the book is beautiful, powerful, and moving.
Profile Image for Kelbaenor (Dan).
162 reviews48 followers
February 21, 2022
Absolutely essential. By far the best, most thorough examination of both the events and the historiography of Reconstruction that I have ever read. Du Bois not only does a meticulous materialist examination of the facts of Reconstruction and the economic forces behind it, but his writing is beautiful, stirring, and full of fire.

Sadly, many of the racist myths that this work completely tears apart are still prevalent within the US education system due to their value to the Ideological State Apparatus. Which makes it all the more vital than anyone who wants to really understand the history of the US read this book.

This should be the standard textbook in schools on Reconstruction. An incredible classic.
Profile Image for Shira.
Author 3 books169 followers
December 26, 2022
I had mixed feelings about the lens through which Du Bois writes this book, about halfway through. Every word he writes is correct, and his conclusions are all compelling, but to view the Reconstruction as he does, to me, gives more power than actually existed at the time, to both the freed slaves, and also even to the labor movement and the North. Nevertheless, to see all of the facts gathered at a time when history had just moved on enough to give a bit of perspective to the war, and also to see how little the actual situation had advanced, was almost shocking. That he had to defend an entire group of people from pseudo-scientific balderdash heaped upon us merely for not being white still angers me, and that we continue to need to defend ourselves is still worse.

I agree with his assessment that the endgame was always economic, as he says on page 399/767:

"The free admission of such testimony in all cases would not have involved the surrender of power by the whites since they were to be the judges and jury. The occupational restrictions, instead of tending to restore order, created the impression that the dominant race desired to exclude the blacks from useful employment."

and the saddest part is

"Democracy died save in the hearts of black folk. Indeed, the plight of the white working class throughout the world today is directly traceable to Negro slavery in America, on which modern commerce and industry was founded, and which persisted to threaten free labor until it was partially overthrown in 1863."

And of course, education remains the key lever for change. One note on literacy: if all work contracts had to be in writing, how could the newly freed slaves not have had free schooling immediately?

So he recorded, at the same time, interestingly enough, that the PWA was creating the Slave Narratives, a crucial set of events that were being distorted as fast as possible by those who would keep everyone in the erroneous belief that race existed, and that this concept of race made those of us who fall on the wrong side of an arbitrary line to be inferior, by our very natures, to those defined as white. The charges of corruption and stupidity leveled only at Colored voters and legislators were often simple inventions and always distortions, with the effect of continuing a labor monopoly that harmed absolutely all workers and small business owners, merchants, etc. And Du Bois essentially points out that events at this time paved the way for the large industries, from the railroads to Standard Oil, to form monopolies that would eventually have to be broken up, but after making a few men very rich, and tilting the economic structure of this country almost irreversibly in favor of those very ultra wealth who fixed the system. He points out again and again how all workers, Black and White, in the South, and even the Planters, were denied education, or educated only in the superficial fineries of life, and never really looked much below the surface. The culture of living on the subservience of another creates classes of people who only appear to benefit from that service and degradation of the other. But it takes an outside observer to help those inside of a closed system, as the South tried to be, to see that, and to step into a new perspective just long enough to understand how to change, and why change would benefit everyone. Du Bois points out that very very few people of such clarity of vision even existed at that time, let alone had any effective voice. That is the great tragedy of all of this, the terrible waste of human potential that continues even to this day, due to those ingrained ideas that so many have trouble putting aside, even for the moment that it takes to imagine a different perspective.

Education, and the ballot.

Du Bois was right, then, and remains right, now.

We can Do Better.
S. Destinie Jones
Profile Image for David Bates.
181 reviews10 followers
May 23, 2013
In 1929 the editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica requested that W.E.B. Du Bois draft an article on the subject of southern Reconstruction following the American Civil War for the forthcoming edition. In a passage challenging the interpretation of reconstruction governments which had become dominant in the United States over the course of the previous generation, Du Bois insisted that “it was Negro loyalty and the Negro vote alone that restored the South to the Union; established the new democracy, both for white and black, and instituted the public schools.” While the editors praised the article, they struck the passage, and Du Bois angrily withdrew the article from consideration. More than an academic ego was at stake. The narrative of Reconstruction taught in schools and universities across the United States held that Reconstruction had been an unmitigated disaster, a retrograde saturnalia of public corruption and tyranny which had at its heart an alliance of exploitative Northerners and African-Americans who were mentally and morally inferior to the task of self-government. Cherry picked evidence, racist assumptions and distorted emphasis had created a story about the past which served as one of many bulwarks of justification for the segregated racial caste system of the solid South. “I write then in a field devastated by passion and belief,” Du Bois observed near the end of his 1935 work Black Reconstruction, a methodical rebuttal that ran over seven hundred pages long. While trying not to“ fail to sympathize with human frailties and contradiction, in the eternal paradox of good and evil . . . I stand at the end of this writing, literally aghast at what American historians have done to this field.” An eighty-eight year old woman interviewed by a W.P.A. agent shortly afterward about her childhood as a slave put it even more succinctly: “’I know folks think the books tell the truth, but they shore don’t.” The struggle to recover the truth about the United States’ first large scale experiment in interracial democracy has since taken on a powerful symbolic quality, reflecting changing and sometimes conflicting visions of the place of African-Americans within the United States.

Du Bois’ most fundamental challenge to the racist interpretive school, fostered largely by William Dunning and the predominantly southern scholars who studied under him at Columbia University, was also the most simple. “I am going to tell this story as though Negroes were ordinary human beings, realizing that this attitude will from the first seriously curtail my audience,” he wrote in an introductory note to his reader. Rather than letters and diaries of hostile white southerners, Du Bois based his account on the voluminous government documents of the period, from the records of the state and federal government to military records and correspondence and the reports of the Freedman’s Bureau agents. A lonely dissent at the time, much of Black Reconstruction reads as a kind of sweeping master text for the historical investigations published in the later part of the century, with subsequent scholars merely following up on the intimations in various paragraphs and chapters. Rather than passive recipients of Northern liberation, Du Bois spotlighted the role of southern Blacks in the winning of the Civil War and the re-admittance of the former Confederate states to the union under the leadership of interracial coalitions of Republican voters. While acknowledging the corruption of Reconstruction governments, he placed it within the broader context 19th century patronage politics generally, and of the constant hostile threat of white supremacist violence in particular.

Lauding the progressive efforts made by state governments to uplift their citizens through economic development , wider granting of the franchise and the establishment of the first public school systems, Du Bois framed the true stakes of the Reconstruction experiment as a contest between an advancing democratic principle and the conservative opposition of powerful proprietary interests. “What were to be the limits of democratic control in the United States? If all labor, black as well as white, became free – were given schools and the right to vote – what control could or should be set to the power and action of these laborers? . . . how would property and privilege be protected?” In a conclusion redolent with New Dealer denunciations of economic aristocracy, Du Bois brought home the consequences of the tide of reactionary violence that “redeemed” the former rebel states and created the Solid South. For the United States and the world it influenced, imperialism bolstered by an artificially conservative South, commitment to a racist ideology, and global war to defend the profits drawn from exploitation of labor. Amid the lengthening economic emergency of the Great Depression Du Bois noted that “a clear vision of a world without inordinate individual wealth, of capital without profit and of income based on work alone, is the path out, not only for America but for all men. Across this path stands the South with flaming sword.”
Profile Image for Andrew.
1,992 reviews699 followers
August 16, 2022
Du Bois' throughgoing history has since become the standard text on Reconstruction, and in many ways can be read as a primer on decolonization projects that have occurred in the years since, showing how a mix of reaction, capital, and a smothering of even the most humble ambitions can derail even the highest minded of projects. The jailer starves the prisoner until he can barely move, then opens the door. The prisoner lays there, twitching, and of course the jailer yells at him for not taking more initiative.

This is what history should be, and it helps that Du Bois has a strong narrative and persuasive voice. Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner emerge as the heroes, the only Northern politicians who actually gave a damn about liberation, the Reconstruction politicians are shown to have tried to their best, beset on all sides by people actively cheering on their failure, Andrew Johnson is revealed (as everyone already knew) to be a complete fail-lord, the list goes on. An important account of how things got fucked... or rather stayed fucked.
Profile Image for Dan.
Author 15 books138 followers
June 12, 2021
I bought this about a year ago but had been daunted by the sheer size of it. Now I regret not diving in right away, as it truly is one of the most staggeringly impressive works of scholarship I have ever read: a fast-paced historical narrative brought to life both by Du Bois’s fiery and expressive prose together with his impeccable selection of historical records. I read it breathlessly, totally mesmerized by the details of a period of great potential and equally great tragedy that defined the legacy of American racism.
Profile Image for Jesus.
89 reviews
April 14, 2009
Basic elements of the story of America's civil war will be familiar to many who have grown up in this country. Yet, as W.E.B. DuBois shows in the final chapter of this book, there are myths and propaganda that can occlude understanding. This book demystifies by filling in the spaces outside of the physical battlefields with an exhaustive mass of data. It is well-organized; with each chapter beginning with a summary and ending with a song or a poem.

Others reviewers stress economic elements of DuBois' work. This is certainly a part of his study, yet his deep analysis also reveals many facets of the complex politics at play in mid- to late-19th century North America. While there are moments when DuBois acknowledges individual contributions to the tasks inherent in rebuilding the republic, characterization of people within different classes prevails throughout the work. His most central insight may be that while the reconstruction's project of land reform was a failure, education was an unexpected success:

"The fact of the matter was that in the pre-war South, there were two obstacles to a free public school system. The first was the attitude of the owners of property. They did not propose under any circumstances to be taxed for the public education of the laboring class. They believed that laborers did not need education; that it made their exploitation more difficult; and that if any of them were really worth educating, they would somehow escape their condition by their own efforts.

"The second obstacle was that the white laborers did not demand education, and saw no need of it, save in exceptional cases. They accepted without murmur their subordination to the slaveholders, and looked for escape from their condition only to the possibility of becoming slaveholders themselves. Education they regarded as a luxury connected with wealth.

"It was the other part of the laboring class, the black folk, who connected knowledge with power; who believed that education was the stepping-stone to wealth and respect, and that wealth, without education, was crippled. Perhaps the very fact that so many of them had seen the wealthy slaveholders at close range, and knew that extent of ignorance and inefficiency among them, led to that extraordinary mass demand on the part of the black laboring class for education. And it was this demand that was the effective force for the establishment of the public school in the South on a permanent basis, for all people and all classes." [from page 641:]

The book is also useful for those studying the history of Florida, Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi.
Profile Image for James .
280 reviews
January 4, 2012
When I was in graduate school, I noted somewhat facetiously in a seminar that modern historians of African-American history and Reconstruction were all writing books that essentially said, "DuBois was right about this too...." I was reminded of the revolutionary nature of this book when I decided to set aside time over winter break to read the book. As I read through DuBois' tome, I couldn't help but see ideas that would later be fleshed out and developed by modern historians like Eric Foner and Steven Hahn. While I certainly got bogged down in the middle of the book (especially as he went state by state in his description of Reconstruction) I thought the book's conclusion was simply breathtaking. I'm seriously considering using his chapter on Reconstruction historiography for American history class. While, I might not necessarily agree with his exclusive use of a Marxist economic lens to interpret history one cannot deny how amazing it is that an African-American scholar at a small black college in the midst of the Jim Crow South could produce a work that directly challenged the historical orthodoxy of his time, and prevailed!

With all of the glowing praise, I should note that the book is long. I might also use this book to teach my students the value of paraphrasing and the importance of good editing. This book could definitely have used another round of edits. Maybe the flaws of the text could have been attributed to the style of the period.

I teach high school American history. Reading this book over winter break reenergized me for another semester.
Profile Image for Ruthie.
88 reviews1 follower
February 4, 2023
Essential to understanding the Civil War. DuBois argues that black people won the Civil War for the North. It had gotten to the point by 1865 that southerners were trying to make slaves fight for their masters. Black people were more motivated than white people to win because it was their freedom at stake. While white northerners were rioting and lynching black people in New York City in order to protest fighting the war, black people deserted the plantations (going on strike), bringing their labor over to the Union side and tipping the scales towards northern victory.

Afterwards, black people in the south participated in their state governments for about a decade before the Ku Klux Klan and forces of reaction manipulated the situation into minority white governments that persist through DuBois's day to ours. Black Reconstruction covers each geographic and demographic region in the South, naming and honoring the black people who participated in state governments and their formation of public schools which wouldn't have existed if not for the insistence of black southerners on education.

Going into reading Black Reconstruction, have some Civil War reference points in your head. Knowing some of the notorious senators and congressmen at the time helps: Charles Sumner, Thaddeus Stevens, etc.
Profile Image for Bayliss Camp.
111 reviews21 followers
September 4, 2016
I decided to read this book after attending a community book forum on Ta-Nehisi Coates's _Between the World and Me_. This was one of the books recommended for further reading.

I should also confess I read it in part because my high school US history teacher -- a man otherwise quite good at what he did -- chose to skip over this part of America's story. That's right: we covered the Civil War and then went straight to the Panama Canal, as if nothing of interest happened in between. Reading this book was, in part, my own way of filling up that lacunum in my knowledge of our nation's shared narrative.

This book is quite hefty -- over 700 pages of tightly-packed prose -- but it's well worth it. Because of course DuBois said something new, wrote about things which others had ignored, or worse, deliberately misrepresented. And of course what he said is absolutely critical to a full understanding of how America came to be the nation it is today. And of course what he said brought theory and data together in ways that no other scholar had done up to that time. For instance, he was basically the first person to point out that state-sponsored penitentiaries in the South basically didn't exist prior to the Civil War (such matters being handled "privately," which is to say as part of the plantation system), and that their creation subsequent to Appomattox was explicitly done as a means of controlling the price of black labor. He was also basically the first person to use class analysis to interrogate the race problem -- and to do so in ways that moved marxian theory further than any traditional marxist ever would have. In short, he did what only a few great social theorists manage to accomplish: set down an interpretation of the world, in a way that alters all that those of us who follow do, and write, and think.

But here's the real kicker: he writes beautifully. Poetically, even. Some examples:

Pg. 29-30: "America thus stepped forward in the first blossoming of the modern age and added to the Art of Beauty, gift of the Renaissance, and to Freedom of Belief, gift of Martin Luther and Leo X, a vision of democratic self-government: the domination of political life by the intelligent decision of free and self-sustaining men [sic]. What an idea and what an area for its realization -- endless land of richest fertility, natural resources such as Earth seldom exhibited before, a population infinite in variety, of universal gift, burned in the fires of poverty and caste, yearning toward the Unknown God; and self-reliant pioneers, unafraid of man or devil. It was the Supreme Adventure, in the last Great Battle of the West, for that human freedom which would release the human spirit from lower lust for mere meat, and set it free to dream and sing.
And then some unjust God leaned, laughing, over the ramparts of heaven and dropped a black man in the midst.
It transformed the world. It turned democracy back to Roman Imperialism and Fascism; it restored caste and oligarchy; it replaced freedom with slavery and withdrew the name of humanity from the vast majority of human beings."

Pp. 122-3: "Suppose on some gray day, as you plod down Wall Street, you should see God sitting on the Treasury steps, in His Glory, with the thunders curved about him? Suppose on Michigan Avenue, between the lakes and hills of stone, and in the midst of hastening automobiles, and jostling crowds, suddenly you see living and walking toward you, the Christ, with sorrow and sunshine in his face?
Foolish talk, all of this, you say, of course; and that is because no American now believes in his religion. Its facts are mere symbolism; its revelation vague generalities; its ethics a matter of carefully balanced gain. But to most of the four million black folk emancipated by civil war, God was real. They knew Him. They had met Him personally in many a wild orgy of religious frenzy, or in the black stillness of the night. His plan for them was clear; they were to suffer and be degraded, and then afterwards by Divine edict, raised to manhood and power; and so on January 1, 1863, He made them free."

Pg. 322: "Because [Johnson] could not conceive of Negroes as men, he refused to advocate universal democracy, of which, in his young manhood, he had been the fiercest advocate, and made strong alliance with those who would restore slaver under another name.
This change did not come by deliberate though or conscious desire to hurt -- it was rather the tragedy of American prejudice made flesh; so that the man born to narrow circumstances, a rebel against economic privilege, died with the conventional ambition of a poor white to be the associate and benefactor of monopolists, planters and slave drivers. In some respects, Andrew Johnson is the most pitiful figure of American history. A man who, despite great power and great ideas, became a puppet, played upon by might fingers and selfish, subtle minds; groping, self-made, unlettered and alone; drunk, not so much with liquor, as with the heady wine of sudden and accidental success."

Pg. 383: "It is then one's moral duty to see that every human being, to the extent of his capacity, escapes ignorance, poverty and crime. With this high ideal held unswervingly in view, monarchy, oligarchy, dictatorships may rule; but the end will be the rule of All if mayhap All or Most qualify. The only unforgivable sin is dictatorship for the benefit of Fools, Voluptuaries, gilded Satraps, Prostitutes, and Idiots. The rule of the famished, unlettered, stinking mob is better than this and the only inevitable, logical and justifiable return."
261 reviews4 followers
September 9, 2015
This had to be a quick read for it was one of twelve books I have to read for a graduate seminar class this semester. What I like about this books is the fresh view of reconstruction in that blacks were active actors in this period of time and not lazy bums soaking in perks from republicans after the civil war.. Nor was this an homage to how southern whites were innocents raped in more ways than one. However, for the most from there it is well only ok. VERY repetitive throughout, in many cases verbatim. The repetition was annoying. Also his incessant use of loooooonnnnnnnggggggg quotes. In one instance, he quoted someone for about five pages straight. There are better ways at proving a point with a quote and concisely analyzing it without giving us the entire speech. And then there is the Marxist lovefest and interpretation of it all. Anyone that praises this work for it's "solid Marxism interpretation" both do not understand Marxism and are part of the problem with America and current black movements today. His error, beyond foolishly believing Marxism solves all, is his illogical comparison of communist Russia, soon to fall into communism china, British India and other failed labor states at the time as examples of what America should be like. Sad really. He is wrong in that all whites hated all blacks and that reconstruction and redemption was a conspiracy of planters and poor whites to control blacks by way of economics alone...oh and blaming industry as an evil as well. He also contradicts himself by saving its all about economics and not race, then rants about the racism of the south and whites overall. He was prone to exaggerate the death rate in the south as well as one instance when he quoted a source that in a given year Georgia had no penitentiary system and on the next page quoted another source saying in that same year Georgia did have one!!!!

Ok, enough with my criticisms. Despite all that, this is a must have book for those studying and researching reconstruction, especially in following the historiographical thought as it changed over the last 150 years. This is also the first major and real work by a black academic on the topic, that is important as well. As a historian there is merit to this book and field, yet it fails from preconceived notions and prejudices, mainly in the Marxian thought, which should make one shudder, contradiction and arrogance. Oh and his calls for immediate action and violence by blacks to get what they want is well, bad since we can see how well they handle that in our day now. He was took quick to ridicule booker t. Washington who wanted blacks to be industrious and prove their worth in patience, because immediate and passionate violence can be railroaded by bad men and do more harm than good to blacks.
Profile Image for Jonathan Blanks.
64 reviews50 followers
January 22, 2020
The two greatest shortcomings of this book are simultaneously representative of its greatest strengths.

First, the narrative sometimes suffers the dreary recitation of tax and commodity price data, but it speaks to the thoroughness of DuBois’s research that obliterates the still too common shibboleths about the Reconstruction era and particularly its governments.

Second, DuBois cudgels the reader with the Marxist critiques of American capital and it’s effect on American society. While the language can get tiresome, and the Marxism leads to speculation that is sometimes plausible but not as thoroughly demonstrated as most of the work, his diagnosis of the socio-structural forces that led to the economic retardation of labor and wealth in the South is far more correct than it is wrong. The state of the history at the time this work was published was inexcusable and that he integrated and hypothesized Marxist theory into his observations does not undercut the value of the book as a needed corrective to the revisionist history popular in the first half of the 20th century.

Every student of the era should read it despite its imperfections.
Profile Image for Erik.
Author 3 books9 followers
April 27, 2021
This was one of the most fascinating and surprising books on American history I've ever read. With its comprehensive coverage of a key period in U.S. history, it's no wonder that DuBois account of Reconstruction is a classic, at least among historians and some civil rights leaders. For the crucial lessons it brings from history for today, the book deserves to be much better known.

After reading Eric Foner and others, I already knew that the old story about Reconstruction--that it was a "tragic" period of corrupt misrule over the defeated South by greedy northern carpetbaggers and treasonous southern scalawags egging on ignorant and brutish Black freedmen--was wrong. The truth is that Reconstruction was actually an amazing time of political and economic experimentation in biracial democracy that lifted up not only Black southerners but also poor southern whites.

Much corruption in the South under Reconstruction governments--part and parcel of the corruption found in the North in the same period of an overheated post-war economy nationwide--was matched by the same amount of idealism, wisdom, integrity, and magnanimity by former slaves for their former masters. This led to surprisingly good government under very difficult circumstances.

What was tragic about Reconstruction was that it ended too soon, and that afterwards, its gains for biracial democracy that sought fair treatment for labor and capital alike were largely, but not entirely, reversed by white Redeemer governments in every southern state.

To a reader who is familiar with this revised story of Reconstruction, DuBois provides much rich detail to help see that the story is not a simple tale of good Republican Unionists pushing for Black freedom and civil rights vs bad ex-Confederate Redeemers in the Democratic Party trying to pull Black southerners back into pseudo-slavery. Shifting alliances and mixed motivations created strange combinations of Black citizens, sympathetic northerners, planters, and southern poor whites.

True to its title, DuBois's text does cover the activity and leadership of Black people during the Civil War and in the dynamic period afterwards when America became perhaps the first nation on earth to try an experiment in truly inclusive democracy. That experiment was a noble one and incredibly ambitious, trying to plant an anti-racist government with progressive policies on education and economic opportunity in the most conservative region of the United States, the American South. DuBois profiles dozens of the talented and able Black men (and some women) who helped lead Reconstruction, including two Black senators, Blanche Bruce and Hiram Revels; nearly two dozen Black congressmen; and hundreds of elected officials in state and local governments across the South, including PBS Pinchback who served briefly also as governor of Louisiana.

For all the necessary and long overdue focus on the agency of Black Americans, DuBois's book is not limited to "Black" history but is really a new, more inclusive story of American history. DuBois talks much about the role of white leaders from Lincoln and Johnson on down to Radical Republicans in Congress like Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens to white leaders on the state level like idealistic carpetbagger Albion Tourgee in North Carolina or former Confederate General Wade Hampton in South Carolina.

DuBois's treatment of the latter figure exemplifies the nuanced approach of the whole book based on enough detail to tell a story that's as complex as it needs to be, beyond good guys vs bad guys. Which one was Hampton? Though a faithful representative of the planter class, Hampton made a convincing enough case to Black voters that if they helped him "redeem" South Carolina from Republican rule, that they would enjoy civil rights and economic opportunity. But once elected as governor with both white and Black support, Hampton's Redeemer administration tragically failed to deliver on its promises to freed people, and instead worked to bring back white supremacist rule.

And that's the best thing about this book, it surprises you. It's well documented, with many quotes from original sources, so you can rely on its conclusions. It's surprising because the truth about history is surprising.

Lewis's introduction calls attention to the Marxist interpretation that DuBois applies throughout the book and writes that some historians have questioned whether DuBois forced a Marxist interpretation on the facts of Reconstruction to the detriment of accuracy. I did find it a bit jarring at first to see Marxist terms such as "dictatorship" (of labor, for example) used in a positive way. For example, DuBois felt that the South would have benefited from being under such a dictatorship (ie, federal army occupation) for decades longer to give biracial democracy enough time to take root in southern soil. But I soon got used to this way of phrasing and after a while it made perfect sense.

I actually appreciated DuBois's Marxism when it came to talking about how freed Black people constituted a natural proletariat or labor bloc together with poor southern whites. This potential alliance represented such a threat not only to the ruling class of the South, the planters, but also to the capitalists of the North, that the two ruling oligarchies who had fought against each other in the Civil War later made up their differences and united at the end of Reconstruction in class interest to crush the rising power of labor both North and South.

DuBois is also spot on to show how southern poor whites were manipulated by racism to side with their class oppressors, the planters, against their true labor allies, the southern Black farm workers. Race wound up trumping class in propaganda but not in real life, and the southern whites wound up suffering for siding with rich men of their own race over poor Black people.

"Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880" has so much more to say in its 700+ pages. And this one book is worth dozens of others that have given the crucial period of Reconstruction short shrift either by omission or by repeating well worn lies.
Profile Image for Shon.
Author 2 books28 followers
February 9, 2008
How many realize that the Union won the Civil War because, quite against its own will, it turned into a successful armed slave insurrection? And that, for a brief generation, the rewards won by this conquest of power actually made the U.S. resemble its egalitarian rhetoric, far more than it ever has since? Unbelievably powerful.
Profile Image for Nathaniel Flakin.
Author 4 books51 followers
December 31, 2021
The last #book I finished in 2021: Black Reconstruction in America by W.E.B. DuBois. When I was at high school in Texas, I learned the standard lies about Reconstruction, which was the decade after the U.S. Civil War, so 1865 to 1876. We were told that the policies enacted by Congress to truly emancipate Black people from the legacy of slavery were well-intentioned, but marred by corruption and incompetence. The Reconstruction governments in Southern states, led by so-called "carpetbaggers" (immigrants from the North), were supposedly so ineffective that they turned white people against social equality, and ultimately led to Jim Crowe. This myth has been repeated endlessly since the late 19th century. In 1935, W.E.B. Dubois set out to refute it definitively. The result is this massive book.

In reality, Reconstruction was very successful. DuBois recounts, in great detail, the numerous advances made by the Reconstruction governments. These were not limited to democratic rights for Black people, but also included public schools, railroads, etc. There was indeed corruption, but corruption was no less important in the North or the West at the time. Reconstruction was ended by a counterrevolution in which the Southern planters were able to form an alliance with poor whites in order to put Black people into a new form of slavery. Industrial capitalists from the North reached an accommodation with Southern oligarchs.

DuBois presents two brilliant theories here to explain U.S. history from a Marxist perspective. The first is about the alliance between planters and poor white people in the South. It's obvious that racism is the basis for the overexploitation of Black labor, which in turn lowers the price of white labor. When they support racist policies, white workers are increasing their own exploitation. This is still true today: just look at the state of health care and education for white people in Mississippi or Alabama. DuBois explains that racism means lower wages for white workers, but they are compensated with a kind of "psychological wage," from constantly being told they are better. I think this concept is very well known.

DuBois's second theory aims to resolve the mystery of Lincoln. How do we reconcile the fact that Lincoln led a war that ended with the liberation of Black people, with the fact that Lincoln was incredibly racist and wanted to see Black people expelled from the United States? The solution, as DuBois explains very well, is that Lincoln led a war to preserve the Union, and was initially happy to see slavery maintained in the South, as long as the Southern states would submit to the federal government. But as soon as the war began, Black people began deserting the plantations en masse and joining the Union armies. Union officers at first tried to return the enslaved people to the enslavers. But because the war was so unpopular in the North, the only way for the Union to win was to rely on Black volunteers. (I was shocked to learn that Robert E. Lee and other leaders of the South also considered arming Black people in order to defend the Confederacy — I wonder how that would have worked out for them!) Once hundreds of thousands of former slaves were armed, there was really no way to avoid general emancipation. Thus, Black people used the conflict among factions of the ruling class to liberate themselves, and Lincoln recognized the tide of history, despite his racism.

The analysis is brilliant, but I nonetheless feel torn about this book. The endless minutiae of Reconstruction politics were often quite a slog. DuBois spends many dozens of pages listing how many public schools were founded in every single Southern state, and offers short biographies of hundreds of Black politicians. This might have been relevant for the debates at the time the book was written, but I found it tedious. I needed almost four months to finish the book. I think if someone who could create an abridged version of about a quarter the length, they would be doing a great service to socialists today.

DuBois's politics seem to be a kind of Stalinist-infused liberalism, though if I'm not mistaken he only joined the Communist Party USA several decades later. This book was written at the beginning of the Popular Front era, and DuBois seems convinced that the dictatorship of the proletariat could be created via a parliamentary majority of committed democrats. He describes Reconstruction as a revolution — and there were certainly revolutionary elements, but the limitations and ultimate collapse of Reconstruction show why the proletariat cannot simply take over the bourgeois state, but needs to smash it. #bookstagram
Profile Image for Raughley Nuzzi.
222 reviews7 followers
March 28, 2023
I found this book to be an incredible read. It should be (wholly or in part) required reading in all American history classes. It's a fascinating counterpoint to the narrative of the early 20th century and tragically relevant to political discourse today.

For a bit of background, in the first part of the 1900s, mainstream historiography was enamored with the "Lost Cause" narrative around the American Civil War. This was the period of The Birth of a Nation and the erection of monuments commemorating Confederate soldiers and heroes. It was a time of the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and the harsh implementation of "Jim Crow" segregation laws. Black author W.E.B. DuBois was approached with an enormous project of writing a historical counterpunch to the narratives that America was promoting in the 1930s and he came up with this tome.

DuBois writes from the perspective of an unapologetic Marxist Black man in America. His economic philosophy is convincingly woven throughout Black Reconstruction in America and forms the backbone of his thesis: Reconstruction was betrayed by the economically powerful in order to keep the laboring masses divided against each other. My paraphrase is underselling it by quite a lot.

DuBois backs up his assertions with rigorously researched accounts and figures. In some cases, the accounts are literal exercises in accounting as he undermines the narrative that "Corrupt and ignorant freed slaves ran the Southern states into ruin during the period of Reconstruction" by showing the debts and revenues of the states in question before, during, and after Reconstruction. He paints an unforgettable picture of the Civil War in which the North "fought to keep slavery in the Union" while the South "fought to remove slavery from the Union." This adds a level of nuance to the conflict that I hadn't considered prior to reading this book.

There is plenty of room for heroes and villains in DuBois's recounting of the Civil War and its aftermath, but generally speaking the tale is painted with a fine, nuanced brush. DuBois does immense credit to his work by moderating the tone and writing in a just-the-facts style throughout. He saves his opprobrium for the final pages, where the well-deserved venom is finally flung in the face of the United States. I cannot imagine the challenge of writing this book in the 1930s as a Black man, facing down the entire academic and political establishment to shine a light on the Reconstruction period. His work strikes me as unimpeachable and incredibly important.

Sadly, many of the arguments and narratives made and countered in this book are alive and well today. As Confederate statues are removed from places of public honor, we see a backlash reflective of the early 20th century. With slavery apologists on FoxNews and YouTube, the should-be-dead arguments that "slavery wasn't that bad" or "Blacks enslaved Blacks, too" or any of the myriad bad faith ill-informed soundbites still ring fresh in my ears.

Shame on us that DuBois's book is still so relevant and true.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
69 reviews
November 11, 2022
Go to any "history" section of a bookstore and you will be met by countless books on the Civil War, all of which seem to pander to old men who love battles, and few of which seem remotely concerned with the aftermath of the war as the great hinge point of American history.

When W.E.B. Dubois published this colossal work of history, Reconstruction was all but forgotten in the American consciousness, considered only as an unfortunate footnote to the Civil War, a period of depraved corruption and an insult to the South. Dubois bravely sought to redeem Reconstruction as "a revolution comparable to the upheavals in France in the past, and in Russia, Spain, India, and China today." With the revolutionary historical approach of actually considering Black people as humans capable of acting upon history, Dubois shines a light on the active role Black Americans played in the Civil War and Reconstruction. In contrast to the widely accepted truism of the time that Black Americans were "the only people in the history of the world [...] that ever became free without any effort of their own," Dubois posits that while the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery, the North had no interest in emancipation until Black people, through general strike and armed conflict, made emancipation inevitable. Reconstruction, then, is reinterpreted as a revolutionary program of abolition-democracy, ultimately betrayed by a capitalist alliance of property in the North and South. While I'm a little skeptical of his characterization of Reconstruction as "one of the most extraordinary experiments of Marxism that the world, before the Russian Revolution, had seen," his insistence that Black enfranchisement represented a fleeting dictatorship of labor is certainly compelling.

While much of the text can be somewhat dense and granular, Dubois' prose shines with fierce wit and passion. I was particularly compelled by the chapters "Looking Backward" and "Looking Forward," which spell out the revolutionary realignment of the Republican Party through the course of the Civil War; "The Transubstantiation of a Poor White," which utterly skewers Andrew Johnson ("the main cause of his drunkenness was not necessarily whiskey, it was constitutional inability to understand men and movements,"); and "The Propaganda of History," which lays out the horrible state of the historiography of Reconstruction, and the price we have paid for our ignorance.

In short, the abandonment of Reconstruction was perhaps white America's most shameful failure, and we are all living in the wretched consequences of that colossal error.
547 reviews56 followers
March 29, 2018
The way historians looked at the Reconstruction period after the U.S. Civil War saw a sea change over the course of the twentieth century. From being seen – and taught to children – as a minor period in American history, a blemish soon erased, things started shifting more and more until today, Reconstruction is broadly understood as one of the pivots of American history (though given how much politics there is around pre-collegiate history teaching, one wonders how broad the understanding really is).

The first wave to land from this tsunami was Du Bois’s “Black Reconstruction.” Published in 1935, it pre-dated the widespread reappraisals of the period encouraged by New Left-inflected historiography by three decades. The openly reactionary Dunning School, which taught that not only was Reconstruction a failure, but its failure showed the unfitness of black people for self-governance, was still very much a going concern in the 1930s. The Dunning School’s main competition at that time was “progressive” history from people like Charles and Mary Beard, who refused to look at the racial questions, or even most political questions, involved with the Civil War and Reconstruction at all, consumed as they were with subjecting everything to an analysis that boiled down to clashes of economic interest.

So in 1935, “Black Reconstruction” was a gauntlet thrown at the feet of nearly the entire American historical profession. Du Bois sought to prove that Reconstruction was the key moment of American history and that it was nearly transformative of American democracy in large part due to the action of southern black people. Doing that involved both recreating the social history of the country and examining the war, its immediate aftermath, and the individual states that underwent Reconstruction in detail. As such, the book clocks in a little over 700 pages. It includes sociological analysis, detailed accounting of military and political maneuvers, political and historiographical polemics, excerpts from song and poetry, impassioned rhetorical passages on humanity and the arc of history, and many many block quotes from politicians, historians, and other actors. In terms of history, the closest work I can think of to it is Trotsky’s history of the Russian Revolution. In terms of reading experience, I would compare it to “Moby-Dick.”

Du Bois’s central thesis is that black people won the Civil War for the North – largely by mounting a “general strike” i.e. mass slave escapes – and that black communities, largely composed of the recently-enslaved, built the first true worker’s democracies in the United States within the Reconstruction-era South. These were always fragile, and were ultimately destroyed by a combination of white Southern revanchist terror and the fecklessness of the Northern capitalist power structure. Not only did this doom the democratic experiment in the South, in Du Bois’s telling; it also doomed real democracy in the United States and the world as a whole, possibly for good, by robbing the world of a multiracial democracy in a world power-center that would oppose both capitalism and white supremacy at once. Instead, we got the world after 1876, when Reconstruction was foreclosed upon- imperialism, inequality, spiraling racism and class struggle, resulting in one world war and well on its way to a second by the time Du Bois finished the work.

This is a heady thesis. It’s a heady work. In the portions where Du Bois lays out his theses, the excitement is palpable. I don’t want to say things drag in the portions where he sees to proving, year by year and state by state, the genuine democratic potential of the largely black-led Reconstruction governments, and the lies that previous historiography had told about them. “Exhaustive” is the word. He leaves nothing to chance, and doesn’t claim false victories. The Gilded Age was a bad era for political corruption, and the Reconstruction governments shared in it- but not any more than any other part of American government, and probably less than white-dominated ones. Du Bois busts through generations of lies, exposing them as having been brittle from the start- my favorite is how anti-Reconstruction historians bitterly rang their hands over the debts incurred by the Reconstruction governments… as though they weren’t in charge of rebuilding a war-ravaged country and often starting the first public schools and other basic functions of governance in their respective states. This is why the antebellum (and post-Reconstruction) South was such a beaux ideal to libertarians like Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard- a lack of public spending meant no public infrastructure which meant the rich were the only ones with education and the poor (and black) stayed downtrodden.

Most interesting to me are the parts where Du Bois explores the stark dynamic between the intransigence of the problems of racism and oppression, and the radicalness of the solutions brought forth. Lincoln would have been fine uniting the country without freeing the slaves, even if he ultimately wanted slavery to end- most of the Northern public felt the same way. But winning the war was impossible without freeing the slaves. Moreover, as Du Bois and other historians of Atlantic slave abolition point out, there were numerous ways to end a given slave system in ways that minimized inconvenience to the white elite. The British experimented with a number of programs involving apprenticeship, property qualifications for voting, etc. to manage the black masses in their Caribbean colonies- that endless generativity of forms that liberalism displays when presented with a population to manage. None of this would go forward in the American South. The planter class was adamant about reestablish slavery under another name, with no franchise or social escape valve for black people. Between Northern disinclination to have the results of the war overturned, and black and working class organizing, they went the only other route available- civil rights and the franchise, without the sort of hemming in you see elsewhere, and which Du Bois argues many of the freedmen probably would have accepted if it meant moving forward peacefully. Revanchism created revolution, and vice-versa, a familiar dialectic.

“Black Reconstruction” is many things. It’s a reimagining of a given era. It’s a challenge to the historians of its day (and ours!). It’s an impassioned polemic. It’s a monument- along with providing the weight of evidence needed to take on an entrenched historical belief, all of Du Bois’s accountings of the various Reconstruction governments were efforts to give due homage to honorable people and movements for democracy, ignored or defamed by history. It’s an integration of one of the most American of American stories – the Civil War, the great American myth, and Reconstruction, the great American lost hope – into a broader global history of revolution and counterrevolution. It’s something of a slog, admittedly, but well worth it for anyone who really wants to know American history. *****

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