- Paperback: 746 pages
- Publisher: Free Press (July 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684856573
- ISBN-13: 978-0684856575
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 13.7 x 20.5 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 305,566 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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.
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.