AMERICANS: A Collision of Histories by Edward Countryman

AMERICANS: A Collision of Histories

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A revisionist history of America's first century that focuses on the plight of blacks, Native Americans, women, and Latinos. Countryman (History/Southern Methodist Univ.) won the 1982 Bancroft Prize fora People in Revolution, and in this first popular study of the many Americans who were not ""created equal"" in our early state and national constitutions, the author constantly comes back to the glittering promise of the American Revolution (organized by white males), which contrasts with the bitter realities for women and people of color. Does America contradict itself? ""Very well then I contradict myself,"" responds Walt Whitman (""Song of Myself"") in one of the many appropriate citations from literary and political documents. While we learn of blacks being murdered by New York City mobs and ravaged by malaria in King Cotton's domain, we also discover former slaves who served as legislators before Reconstruction, the Mississippi Delta origin of the blues, and several key abolitionists who were black. Similarly, voteless women work their way to respectability in the mills, turn abolitionist zeal into a budding women's movement, and rise through the Civil War to dominate fields like nursing and teaching. The Seneca Indians are portrayed as an exceptional success story, as ""the developing Republic was a disaster for almost all Indians."" The former Mexicans of California, Texas, and New Mexico were likewise never given a piece of the American pie, even when minerals were discovered on land deeded to them. To Countryman's credit, this history is critical without falling to shrill condemnation. America is seen as an ongoing process and a promise that continues to both deliver and disappoint.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Hill & Wang