Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880


This pioneering work was the first full-length study of 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.
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This pioneering work was the first full-length study of 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.
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Editorial Reviews

Sacred Life
In Black Reconstruction in America, Du Bois applies his keen eye to the question of America's post-Civil War Reconstruction, and why it failed. Emancipation for African Americans did not bring on a glorious new beginning for them. Besides not getting their promised forty acres and a mule, the former slaves were denied the vote, denied equal educational opportunities, and cheated out of their livelihood by the sharecropping system. Reconstruction, a never-to-be-repeated opportunity to genuinely change the nature of race relations in the South, only delayed the reestablishment of white dominance over the lives of black southerners.

The brilliantly written and exhaustively researched Black Reconstruction in America was completed in 1935 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, and Reconstruction as being part of a dramatic revolutionary movement that created, for an all-too-brief historical moment, true democracy in America. And he portrays African Americans 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 rights for blacks were still missing from American society. Du Bois used strong language and commonsense reasoning to make the case that even under the best circumstances, it would take black people time to shake off the effects of slavery, but in a still-hostile South and without the protection of the American government, it was insanity to expect blacks to make quick advancements.

In Black Reconstruction, Du Bois points to the failures of Reconstruction to adequately Reconstruct American society so that its black citizens could move forward fully enfranchised and with equal rights under the law. Black Reconstruction gives a penetrating analysis of how Reconstruction fell short of creating true democracy for all Americans and instead began a new process of discrimination and disenfranchisement for free black citizens. The effects of America's failure to live up to its promises and ideals are still being felt by its people&#8212both black and white.

From the Publisher

"This set represents an invaluable assembly of the works of the pioneering African American scholar, activist, and creative genius....The introductions to the individual volumes are written by such distinguished scholars as to make those writings indispensable treasures in their own right. Recommended for all public libraries and essential for every academic institution."--Library Journal (starred review)

"This set is a valuable contribution to African-American scholarship. It has the potential to introduce a new readership to the scope and breadth of a unique and seminal thinker. The works included can provide a more comprehensive understanding of the issues now facing contemporary Americans....[A] breathtaking collection."--School Library Journal

"The general introduction and the introductions to each of Du Bois's works form a valuable opus in their own right, as they convey the author's political and social theories and indicate the richness and development of his ideas....The realities of slavery, racism, and segregation in the United States are always at the forefront, making these works (many of them out-of-print) continually pertinent and forceful reading....This set will be an essential addition to public and college libraries."--Reference and Research Book News

"This set will be vital to all large university libraries with collections in African American history and American literature."--American Reference Books Annual

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689708206
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 2/28/1992
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 768

Meet the Author

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He has edited several major reference works, including Dictionary of African Biography, African American Lives, Africana, and African American National Biography. In addition, he is Editor in Chief of the Oxford African American Studies Center (

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Table of Contents

Series Introduction: The Black Letters on the Sign
To the Reader
I. The Black Worker
II. The White Worker
III. The Planter
IV. The General Strike
V. The Coming of the Lord
VI. Looking Backward
VII. Looking Forward
VIII. The Transubstantiation of a Poor White
IX. The Price of Disaster
X. The Black Proletariat in South Carolina
XI. The Black Proletariat in Mississippi and Louisiana
XII. The White Proletariat in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida
XIII. The Duel for Labor Control on Border and Frontier
XIV. Counter-Revolution of Propery
XV. Founding the Public School
XVI. Back Toward Slavery
XVII. The Propaganda of History
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois: A Chronology
Selected Bibliography

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