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March 7, 2021
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African-American History Books Books The QBR 100

Black Reconstruction in America

Black-Reconstruction-in-America-1860-1880“The unending tragedy of Reconstruction is the utter inability of the American mind to grasp its real significance, its national and world-wide implications… We apparently expected that this social upheaval was going to be accomplished with peace, honesty and efficiency, and that the planters were going to quietly surrender the right to live on the labor of Black folk, after two hundred and fifty ears of habitual exploitation. And it seems to America a proof of inherent race inferiority that four million slaves did not completely emancipate themselves in eighty years, in the midst of nine million bitter enemies, and indifferent public opinion of the whole nation. If Reconstruction of the Southern states, from slavery to free labor, and from aristocracy to industrial democracy, had been conceived as a major national program of America, whose accomplishment at any price was well worth the effort, we should be living today in a different world.” –from Black Reconstruction

Black Reconstruction in America by W.E.B. DuBois is a pioneering work which examined the role Black Americans played in the crucial period after the Civil War, when the slaves had been freed and the attempt was made to reconstruct American society.

“The brilliantly written and exhaustively researched Black Reconstruction in America was completed while Black Southerners still lived under the stifling reign of Jim Crow. Du Bois considered this work to be his magnum opus. In addition to cataloging the reversals of the post-Reconstruction South, Du Bois presented Reconstruction as a lost opportunity for all Americans. He describes the Civil war, the emancipation of slaves, ad Reconstruction as being part of a dramatic revolutionary movement that created, for an all-too-brief historical moment, true democracy in America. And he protrays African American as bold actors in that drama, rather than as just passively manipulated pawns in the power games of northern and southern whites. But in the end, he insisted that equal right for Blacks were still missing from American soicety.” –Sacred Fire

Review: Black Reconstruction in America

“Written in 1935, Black Reconstruction literally rewrote the official history of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Prior to Du Bois, it was commonly accepted that the Civil War was a tragic conflict that set brother against brother, with the generic slaves acting merely as an historical backdrop. It was equally accepted that the Reconstruction period following the Civil War was disastrous, caused by the “premature” granting of civil and political rights to African Americans. As Du Bois states in the book, “the common three theses [about] Reconstruction [were]:

All Negroes were ignorant;
All Negroes were lazy, dishonest, and extravagant;
Negroes were responsible for bad government during Reconstruction. (711–12)

For Du Bois, this version of history is easily explained: “One fact and one alone explains the attitude of most recent writers toward Reconstruction; they cannot conceive Negroes as men.” (726)

It was this reality that compelled Du Bois to write Black Reconstruction as a history of the contribution of Black slaves and Black freedmen in the shaping of their own destiny in the United States which indelibly shaped the future of American society. This alone would be a seminal achievement, but Du Bois made a more lasting contribution to history and politics that makes Black Reconstruction useful as a political tool today.” –Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Read the full review here.



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