An important and fascinating examination of American slavery’s aftermath.

DENMARK VESEY'S GARDEN

SLAVERY AND MEMORY IN THE CRADLE OF THE CONFEDERACY

“Americans do not share a common memory of slavery,” write California State University, Fresno, historians Kytle (Romantic Reformers and the Antislavery Struggle in the Civil War Era, 2014) and Roberts (Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women: Race and Beauty in the Twentieth-Century South, 2014) in this eye-opening history.

The authors point out the “whitewashed” and “unvarnished” versions of the American slavery story. The whitewashed version recalls benevolent masters and faithful slaves; the unvarnished describes the cruelties of enslavement. To recount the memory of slavery from its abolition in 1865 to now, the authors focus on Charleston, South Carolina, where the Civil War began at Fort Sumter and which became the “epicenter” of the Lost Cause gospel and longtime site of “Confederate veneration.” Making fine use of letters, diaries, and other sources, the authors offer a richly detailed, vivid re-creation of the entire era, showing how former slaveholders fostered romanticized antebellum memories while former slaves told the true story of slavery’s brutality. Tracing these conflicting narratives through Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, and recent years, the authors detail the roles played by the Charleston News and Courier, the Old Slave Mart Museum (long the only museum focused on American slavery, it argued slavery’s horrors were “greatly overstated”), and other institutions that made the city a “tourist mecca” after the Civil War, complete with visits to local gardens. “Few things troubled white southerners more than the notion that their ancestors had actively engaged in the sale of men, women, and children and facilitated the destruction of families,” write the authors. Those pressing for unvarnished memories countered a post–World War II campaign to “remove most traces of slavery” by providing black heritage tours, made slave spirituals part of the civil rights movement, and sought to memorialize Denmark Vesey, a former slave who planned a revolt in 1822 (and was honored with a statue in 2014). The authors note a “more truthful” memory of slavery has prevailed in Charleston since the early 2000s.

An important and fascinating examination of American slavery’s aftermath.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62097-365-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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