Arguably the best literary journalist of our time, Nicholas Lemann (Big Test, Promised Land) recaptures our attention with this absorbing chronicle of a shameful era in America's postCivil War history. With devastating accuracy, Lemann traces the prolonged campaign of organized violence waged by white supremacists in the 1870s to overturn the 14th and 15th Amendments, which granted civil rights to freed blacks. Euphemistically called Redemption, this organized racial terrorism, an unbridled crime spree of murder and mayhem, brought the reforms of Reconstruction to a screeching halt and effectively segregated the South for another 100 years. For those of us who know Lemann's work in The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, this book adds luster to an already brilliant literary reputation. And for readers unfamiliar with this Pulitzer Prizewinning writer, we can only ask, "What are you waiting for?"
Written on a dramatic human scale, and leavened by some fresh research and analysis, it is an arresting piece of popular history. Lemann is a responsible writer who aims to convey what he calls "the feeling of history unfolding, not of history considered in retrospect." But Redemption inevitably speaks to the present as well as about the past. In focusing on Reconstruction Mississippi, Lemann, a native of New Orleans, stirs living memories of the murderous Southern resistance to the civil rights movement 90 years later. And he writes at a time when neo-Confederate sympathies have cropped up again in Southern politics, amid reports about the suppression of minority voting throughout the country. We are still living with the consequences of what Lemann presents as the "last battle of the Civil War."
The New York Times
Lemann -- a native Southerner, author of several highly regarded books and dean of the Columbia School of Journalism -- has told this sad, heartbreaking story with passion and authority. He does not tar all whites with the brush of racism and violence, and he does not excuse Reconstruction its excesses and mistakes. His book is an important contribution to the rewriting of Southern history that began half a century ago with C. Vann Woodward's The Strange Career of Jim Crow, and it may well have comparable influence on our understanding of one of the most shameful periods in our past.
The Washington Post
Historians agree that Reconstruction was a conflict in which the good guys lost. Lemann (The Promised Land) hammers the point home with a grim account of post-Civil War Mississippi. His central figure is Adelbert Ames, a Union general and war hero who fought to preserve the Union, despised abolitionists and considered African-Americans an inferior race. Appointed provisional governor of postwar Mississippi, he was horrified at the violence that whites, a minority, used against blacks trying to vote. As military commander, he provided enough security to ensure a Republican victory in 1869 state elections (blacks voted Republican until the 1930s), became an advocate of civil rights and was elected senator in 1870 and governor in 1873. He worked hard to protect the freedmen but failed, and Lemann's description of the terror campaign against Mississippi blacks makes depressing reading. The book's title refers to the popular version of Reconstruction in which valiant Southern whites "redeemed" their states from corrupt carpetbaggers and ignorant freedmen. Agreeing with recent scholars who consider this another Civil War myth, Lemann delivers an engrossing but painful account of a disgraceful episode in American history. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Lemann offers a brisk but thoughtful account of one of the tragic failures in U.S. history: the failure of Reconstruction to consolidate a nonracial democracy in the South. The story focuses on Adelbert Ames, son-in-law of the much-hated Massachusetts radical Benjamin Butler. Caught between his father-in-law's political ambitions, mounting white resistance to democratic rule, Northern public opinion that was weary of war, and a president, Ulysses S. Grant, who had reluctantly concluded that Reconstruction could not be contained, Ames did his best to do his duty at an unpropitious time, but he was the last Republican governor in Mississippi for a century: violence and fraud restored the state to white Southern rule as Reconstruction collapsed across the South. Northern voters, unspeakably weary after years of turmoil, were no longer prepared to support the rule of law in the Southern states. This dismal story is a particularly timely read, as U.S. politicians and military leaders wrestle with the problems of Iraq. Republicans, it seems, are still very good at winning wars, but nation building is more problematic.<
Focusing on the 1873-75 race war that ex-Confederate vigilante White Leaguers waged in Louisiana and Mississippi, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lemann (dean, Sch. of Journalism, Columbia Univ.; The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America) illustrates the Civil War's meaning as a black-and-white lived experience in the postwar South. Collapsing history into crystalline moments filled not simply with facts but with historic truths, Lemann details the white supremacists' solution to the obvious postwar problem of establishing a place for ex-slaves. With unrestrained antiblack, political violence, Lemann explains, Southern whites rejected the postwar U.S. theory of freedom and sought to "redeem" their vision of America as a land of white supremacy. Using public and private papers, especially those of war hero and carpetbag Mississippi governor Adelbert Ames and his wife, Blanche Butler, Lemann personalizes the gruesome racial politics from which U.S. apartheid and its legacies emerged with the nation's acquiescence. Historians and general readers will find his work scandalously engrossing. Highly recommended for collections on Southern history, U.S. race relations, and the Civil War era.-Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
The Civil War ended not with Lee's surrender in 1865, but ten years later, with the triumph of white supremacy throughout the unrepentant South. After an opening chapter on anti-black violence in Colfax, La., in 1871, Lemann (The Big Test, 1999) turns to Adelbert Ames (1835-1933), a West Point graduate who fought in 16 Civil War battles and who rose to the rank of brigadier general, won a Medal of Honor, then commanded federal troops overseeing Reconstruction in the South. Under his supervision, Mississippi enacted a constitution granting former slaves the vote, and elected a largely Republican legislature that, in 1870, sent Ames to the U.S. Senate. In Washington, he met and married Blanche Butler, daughter of a union general widely viewed as a possible successor to U.S. Grant as president. But with Ames's 1873 election as governor of Mississippi, the tide began to turn. Eager to recapture power, white Mississippians began a campaign of ruthless intimidation. Republican rallies were broken up by Democratic gunmen who blamed the violence on blacks. In Vicksburg, armed whites ousted the Republican sheriff and murdered anyone who dared resist their rule. Ames asked for federal troops to restore order. But the president, more concerned with courting Northern businessmen, vacillated. Finally, the opposing parties agreed to end the violence-too late to save the Republicans. The 1876 election saw Mississippi blacks staying away from the polls in droves; those who attempted to vote were driven away at gunpoint. In the end, Ames resigned his governorship to avoid impeachment, and Reconstruction came to an end. Southern blacks would not receive full citizenship for nearly another century. Asobering account of the true end of Reconstruction, long suppressed in favor of the self-serving fairy tale peddled by the victors.