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This is the epic story of how African-Americans, in the six decades following slavery, transformed themselves into a political people--an embryonic black nation. As Steven Hahn demonstrates, rural African-Americans were central political actors in the great events of disunion, emancipation, and nation-building. At the same time, Hahn asks us to think in more expansive ways about the nature and boundaries of politics and political practice.
Emphasizing the importance of kinship, labor, and networks of communication, A Nation under Our Feet explores the political relations and sensibilities that developed under slavery and shows how they set the stage for grassroots mobilization. Hahn introduces us to local leaders, and shows how political communities were built, defended, and rebuilt. He also identifies the quest for self-governance as an essential goal of black politics across the rural South, from contests for local power during Reconstruction, to emigrationism, biracial electoral alliances, social separatism, and, eventually, migration.
Hahn suggests that Garveyism and other popular forms of black nationalism absorbed and elaborated these earlier struggles, thus linking the first generation of migrants to the urban North with those who remained in the South. He offers a new framework--looking out from slavery--to understand twentieth-century forms of black political consciousness as well as emerging battles for civil rights. It is a powerful story, told here for the first time, and one that presents both an inspiring and a troubling perspective on American democracy.
Winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for History.
Hahn examines how disenfranchised African Americans in the rural South exercised grassroots strategies to gain political power—albeit limited—after emancipation until the migration to the North. Hahn asserts that southern rural blacks were much more active and assertive in gaining political rights than is typically portrayed and explores the connection between labor and political rights....Readers interested in the history of the struggle for racial justice will appreciate this new perspective on the period that preceded the modern civil rights movement.
— Vanessa Bush
Drawing synthetically but fruitfully on a vast scholarship on slavery, emancipation, and the New South, it will likely become required reading, if not for the general public, then at least for students of American history. Those readers will encounter an elegantly written, deeply moving, powerful statement of black humanity and black agency in the momentous struggles to end slavery and to define freedom.
— Eric Arnesen
In this magisterial new book, University of Pennsylvania historian Steven Hahn gives us the history of the South from the eve of the Civil War through the dawn of the Great Migration from the perspective of rural blacks. It is an awesome and audacious undertaking. Not since W. E. B. DuBois' monumental Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 (1935) has a historian ventured to structure a political history of the entire post-emancipation South around black politics.
— Jane Dailey
The broad scope of this study and Hahn's ability to articulate the complex characteristics of African American political origins and growth supersedes Eric Foner's seminal work or any other more specialized study on the era.
— B. A. Wineman
Steven Hahn's meticulously researched, richly detailed history of the black political tradition is a book of the first importance, for the author demonstrates how recently freed slaves drew on their experiences under the peculiar institution to create political communities. He explains how they responded to black nationalism, formed alliances across geographical and cultural divisions, and eventually gained rights previously denied them. This outstanding book should win more than one prize.
— Lee Milazzo
Hahn's book demonstrates that from slavery to the Great Migration of the last century, African Americans were astute politicians, using alliances with the good and bad to ensure socioeconomic and political success. But first and foremost the author reveals for his readers how blacks dealt with the dynamics of change in the post-Civil War South as it impacted their daily lives.
— A. J. Williams-Myers
Hahn's work links periods normally considered distinct and even autonomous in scholarly studies of African-American life
Along the way he introduces us to a cast of remarkable characters who labored relatively anonymously but heroically to give meaning to black Americans' visions for freedom
Hahn's compelling narrative shows how black workers and their political and social leaders "energized the meaning of democracy" and forced the nation to confront "deep historical problems" that have resided at the heart of the American polity (10). This majestic and impassioned narrative is perhaps the deepest and most penetrating exploration we have of the long pre-history of the twentieth-century civil rights movement.
— Paul Harvey
In Steven Hahn's Pulitzer Prize-winning A Nation Under Our Feet, the aims and organization of black political agency from the final years of slavery into the early twentieth century receive a sweeping reassessment...The Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to towns and then to the North had its roots in the 1890s and progressed sharply during World War One...Both those who moved to other regions and those who remained in the South maintained a collective identity, but they also held on to the promise that American democracy was meant to cross racial boundaries. With a wealth of evidentiary detail and lucid prose, Hahn confronts the challenges made to that promise in an engaging and cohesive work.
— Scott Taylor Morris
A compact but challenging volume...Hahn looks at the complex way the African-American struggle for emancipation took shape both under slavery and in the wake of its abolition...Only the most small-minded conception of American life would assume that these are matters of interest only to black readers. In a healthy culture, this little book would be a best-seller.
— Scott McLemee
|Prologue: Looking Out from Slavery||1|
|Pt. I||"The Jacobins of the Country"|
|1||Of Chains and Threads||13|
|2||"The Choked Voice of a Race at Last Unloosed"||62|
|3||Of Rumors and Revelations||116|
|Pt. II||To Build a New Jerusalem|
|4||Reconstructing the Body Politic||163|
|5||"A Society Turned Bottomside Up"||216|
|6||Of Paramilitary Politics||265|
|Pt. III||The Unvanquished|
|7||The Education of Henry Adams||317|
|8||Of Ballots and Biracialism||364|
|9||The Valley and the Shadows||412|
|Epilogue: "Up, You Mighty Race"||465|
|App||Black Leaders Data Set||479|