This is the epic story of how African-Americans, in the six decades following slavery, transformed themselves into a political peoplean 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 frameworklooking out from slaveryto 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.
Steven Hahn is Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor in American History at University of Pennsylvania.
Table of Contents
Prologue: Looking Out from Slavery
Part I: "The Jacobins of the Country"
1. Of Chains and Threads
2. "The Choked Voice of a Race at Last Unloosed"
3. Of Rumors and Revelations
Part II: To Build a New Jerusalem
4. Reconstructing the Body Politic
5. "A Society Turned Bottomside Up"
6. Of Paramilitary Politics
Part III: The Unvanquished
7. The Education of Henry Adams
8. Of Ballots and Biracialism
9. The Valley and the Shadows
Epilogue: "Up, You Mighty Race"
Appendix: Black Leaders Data Set
What People are Saying About This
David W. Blight
An original book about what it means to be political in America. With stunning research and sparkling narrative, Steven Hahn has written a moving story about political behavior among the slavery and freedom generations of rural, southern blacks. He demonstrates how a people with roots in slavery converted freedom into integrationist and separatist ends all at once. Blacks practiced the craft of bending wills as they bent their backs in labor. This book will take its place among a handful of classics on southern black life and politics. David W. Blight, author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory
A Nation Under Our Feet is the best study of working class politics published in a generation. By unraveling the riddle of black politics in slavery and tracing the growth of black political activism through Reconstruction into the twentieth century, Hahn forces us to think differently about the American polity and what he calls "the inspiring and dispiriting history of American democracy." An extraordinary achievement. Ira Berlin, author of Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves
In this sweeping account of black political culture in the rural south, Steven Hahn reveals a century of black community mobilization from slave resistance before the Civil War to the rise of Garveyism in the Deep South of the 1920s. Hahn's breathtaking research and his focus on public activism return to the subject of black rural life a political currency that can only grow in interest. Evelyn Higginbotham, Editor-in-Chief, The Harvard Guide to African-American History
Imagine a world in which slaves were thoughtful, purposeful political beings before the Northern "liberators" showed up at the gates of Southern plantations. Steven Hahn identifies the constituent elements of slave politics and uncloaks the relationship between public acts of politics and the less visible world of African-American institutions, practices, obligations, communities, and understandings that enabled them. This is a wonderful book which dramatically revises our assumptions about the formidable role of rural working-class people in remaking the nation after slavery.
Tera Hunter, author of To 'Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors after the Civil War