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Sacred LifeIn 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—both black and white.