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Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 [Paperback]

W. E. B. Du Bois , David Levering Lewis

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Book Description

July 1999
The pioneering work in the study of the role of Black Americans during Reconstruction by the most influential Black intellectual of his time.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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How black men, coming to America in the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, became a central thread in the history of the United States, at once a challenge to its democracy and always an important part of its economic history and social development. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Crucible of Civil Rights 5 Feb 2004
By James Ferguson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Du Bois took a revolutionary new look at Reconstruction in the 1930's, providing a fresh view that went largely ignored until recent books by Foner and Litwack resuscitated this overlooked period in American history. Du Bois summons up his great intellectual bearing to illustrate that from being the unmitigated failure that Reconstruction has long been portrayed as, it was the crucible of civil rights legislation, a time when there was very definitely hope that America would redefine itself along more egalitarian lines. While the book deals predominately with the black man's point of view, Du Bois offers a principled Marxist view of labor relations at the time, and how the leading Radical Republicans tried to come to terms with the new industrial society that was emerging in America.
Du Bois was a very compelling writer, he cuts through the layers of history to reveal the soul of the persons most greatly affected by Reconstruction. He charts the troubled waters of the Civil War, and the Presidential attempts at Reconstruction which followed the Union victories in the South. He provides a candid view of Lincoln, who struggled with his own prejudices, but eventually came to accept the black man because of the pivotal role he played in the war. Ironically, Du Bois noted a black did not become a man until he showed he could hold a gun in battle.
Du Bois felt Lincoln really did alter his views during the course of the war, no longer favoring the colonist view held by many that blacks should be repatriated to Africa. However, Du Bois felt that Lincoln lacked the convictions to really push forward Reconstruction, that his principal concern remained in reclaiming the Southern states in the Union.
The mighty task of Reconstruction was left up to the Radical Republicans in Congress and the "Black" legislatures that emerges in the South during this time. Du Bois refutes the Dunning-Bowers view that blacks were incapable of forming governments, by providing a chapter on "The Black Proletariat in South Carolina." Here, he shows that blacks fully recognized the enormity of this most propitious moment, but that they ran up against a set of state and federal courts, which refused to hold up their decisions. While blacks were now members of state legislatures and of the US Congress, they did not take over the South, as is often described. Even in South Carolina, where blacks outnumbered whites, blacks were only temporarily able to seize control of the legislature, and force a new state constitution.
This is the book that forms the basis for Foner's excellent book, Reconstruction. Du Bois was the first to realize that Reconstruction was more than just an epilog to the Civil War, but the beginning of the long road to freedom, which took nearly 100 years in the making for blacks in America.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Essential Work on the Reconstruction Era 29 Jan 2004
By Herbert L Calhoun - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Given the way race relations have unfolded since the book was written, WEB DuBois' tome is THE essential work on the most pivotal and one of the most grossly underrated periods of American history.
Since it is told from the vantage point of a Black American, it stands as one of the essential missing voices in an otherwise neatly politicized and racially sanitized periods of American history and areas of American historical scholarship.
DuBois, writing with an impressive flair, is not bashful about giving credit where it is due, whether to noble and humane slave owners or to the vastly underrated and seldom reported contributions of Negroes during this period. This emphasis alone is a display of courage unlikely to be found except in very rare instances in other books on this subject.
Despite its flair, the book is still dense with details that only a first rate historian could uncover and organize so well. And although the book has been criticized for being too much of a Marxist economic analysis, it is nevertheless accurate, has the full ring of truth and remains relatively non-polemical. And for one partial to non-Marxist economic analyses, I find rather strangely that DuBois' Marxist analysis seems the appropriate tool uniquely suited for analyzing the circumstances of this particular era of American history.

In short, the book is not just another oblique harangue against the American system of racism as it was practiced during the reconstruction era--or as it has been practiced during any era for that matter.
Along side Eric Froner's book, "Reconstruction," this is another tour de force. For essential reading on one of the most important periods in American history, one is unlikely to find in print a better book on this subject. Amen.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Historiography of a developing America 8 Dec 2008
By R. Caverly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If history is a matter of recapturing lost voices, Du Bois does so splendidly in Black Reconstruction. It is somewhat of a tome: this is not summer beach reading. Instead, Du Bois systematically reveals Reconstruction as a critical period of economic and legal development in American history. Themes touched on are black rights, the fledgling American worker's movement, the rise of the corporation, and the corrupt nature of Southern AND Northern American politics vis a vis wealthy white landowners.
If you are interested in a Marxist interpretation of 19th century American history, the general history of Reconstruction itself, or the history of the Civil War, this is a must-read. If you are even remotely curious about the history of civil rights in America, this is a must-read. If you are interested in American history whatsoever, you will not regret reading this book. By all rights, it should be a part of every high school curriculum.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An accurate rendering of a people 19 Dec 2009
By Tim - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Education, Economics, Power. Exploitation of human over human. The revisionist accounts of history. All of these elements which lead naturally to racism have a central role in this monumental effort by W.E.B. Du Bois. He received a Rosenwald scholarship and two years time to research and write this book, which was a one of a kind when it was published in 1935. Most studies of the 10 years immediately following the Civil War (the period known as Reconstruction) had naturally extended the assumed inferiority of an entire race of people into a level of laziness and corruption that appeared to be unprecedented. These versions of history have extended up to our present time, as this is the first encounter I have had with this view of Reconstruction. It is certainly not the common view that is taught in our schools and colleges. The reasons for this "historical blind spot" are debatable. It could be the Marxian economics that are obvious in the text, it could be that this period of history is an embarrassment to the nation, or it could be that racism is still inherent and blatant in our culture. I believe that all three have a part in the writing of today's textbooks.
Du Bois had to begin this book by stating that he wrote this version of Reconstruction with the view that the African American is in fact a human being. That statement alone summed up 300 years of assumed inferiority that continues in the re-writing of history to this moment. To many of us it is hard to imagine the level of ignorance and the false sense of superiority that would have to be achieved in order to directly hold another race of people involuntarily in servitude. At the same time, we engage in work and consumption in a Capitalistic society that makes our way of life possible by exploiting the work of other humans at below subsistence wages...or in virtual slavery. These faces are not always as obvious as they were in the period of chattel slavery in American history, but they are just as human. Du Bois touches on this topic in the book, and makes the startling (and prophetic) observation that more often than not these peoples are those of color. If we think about the worst exploitation on the planet today, we can see that this is true. It is the northern hemisphere of the planet that seems to keep the southern in subjection, striking a startling parallel to the North and South in the period of Reconstruction.
The Civil War itself is approached from a different perspective than what we are taught in our schools. Lincoln is portrayed fairly and accurately as a man who only came to terms with the idea of freeing the slaves when he saw how effectively they fought in the war. It is a shame that it took this bloodshed for him to see the humanity of the race.
Perhaps the most important element of the book for its time was the example of the eagerness of the freedmen to build schools and to hold political office. The freedmen took these efforts seriously, and against all odds, kept basic education and their power with the ballot alive. It is only due to the fact that the various economic forces were able to keep the war going that the African American was once again subjected to virtual slavery.
It is beyond the scope of this book to examine the Civil Rights movements of the 20th century, but an important and truthful foundation is laid here. Without reading and understanding this work of Du Bois, it is hard to establish a clear picture of the era of race relations that was to follow. From an economic perspective, it is easy to see how the negative aspects of race relations are essential to the power of the rich. This idea permeates the book and shows the roots of the hatred that created one of the great travesties in the history of mankind.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is an epiphany-- 5 Mar 2012
By Connie Crothers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book changed my life. It changed my entire perspective of my citizenship in this country. It gave me an insight into our country's history that made it possible for me to understand all that happened afterwards. It gave me a way to find hope within the realization of despair that the aftermath of Reconstruction caused, then and now. It gave me a way to understand the deepest meaning of the music I express--jazz improvisation. I think this is one of the greatest books ever written. It is a history classic, on the highest level.
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