Saturday, August 25, 2018

Just Finished Reading - A Nation Under Our Feet

A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration is an important book that follows the treacherous paths that rural Southern African Americans have blazed politically from slavery to the 1920s. Hahn crafts this work through his meticulous research and expert analysis. 

Throughout the book Hahn shows the ever important work of grass-roots agency networks in the black community, and the solidarity that developed that has highlighted black political efforts in the South. These often dangerous efforts to have a political say in their lives and to effect change often met massive violent white resistance throughout the period the author examines. 

Hahn points out that even in slavery, when blacks had no official political representation or the ability to petition, their actions (insurrections, running away, etc.) influenced governmental policies that ultimately led to the end of the peculiar institution. The chapters on Reconstruction and Jim Crow likewise provide excellent insight into the organizing and communication networks in black communities that led to not only opportunities to participate actively in the democratic process, but also lead in official capacities on the local and state levels. These changes led to greater opportunities for rural blacks to obtain an education and achieve a level of economic independence previously believed to be impossible. The Union Leagues and Republican Clubs had tremendous appeal to rural blacks during the Reconstruction years due to their perseverance and results. 

Also of great interest is Hahn's discussion on political black/white fusion efforts such as the Readjusters in Virginia and Greenbackers in Texas. When the Republican tide of Reconstruction subsided, and thus the reemergence of white supremacy in politics, in many areas emigration movements became a popular idea for regaining a sense of black political agency. Liberia, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Indiana all experienced at least some transplants from the former slave states in the last quarter of the 19th century. 

Hahn's greatest accomplishment with this book though, in my opinion, is taking what could be a very convoluted topic, and through his skillful writing, makes it quite clear and understandable. This is truly a monumental book and certainly worthy of its Pulitzer Prize. I highly recommend it.

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