After Slavery: Race, Labor, and Citizenship in the Reconstruction South ed. by Bruce E. Baker, Brian Kelly (review)
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After Slavery: Race, Labor, and Citizenship in the Reconstruction South. Edited by Bruce E. Baker and Brian Kelly. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013. Pp. 268. $74.95 cloth)

Eric Foner, author of the now-classic synthesis, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution (1988), writes in the afterword of this splendid volume, “The essays in this collection demonstrate that the reinterpretation of Reconstruction is continuing apace” (p. 221–22). The scope and variety of the contributions to After Slavery: Race, Labor, and Citizenship in the Reconstruction South reveal the numerous productive avenues that scholars have followed over the last generation. Coming on the heels of two remarkable conferences held on two continents—the Ninth Wiles Colloquium at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the Conference on Race, Labor, and Citizenship in the Post-Emancipation South in Charleston, South Carolina—this edited volume offers a sampling of some of the finest scholarship today on the postslavery South.

As Baker and Kelly note in the introductory piece, recent Reconstruction scholarship, and the essays contained in this volume, follow two lines of inquiry: a comparative and transnational framework that views the transition of slavery to freedom as a global project with broad similarities throughout the Atlantic world and the intensely local study of peculiar places where contingencies and personalities gave special meaning and drama to the struggle over the meaning of freedom.

What the essays capture, more than anything else, is the indeterminate nature of, and connection between, the struggle over labor relations, the reconstitution of kinship and community, and the uncertain [End Page 690] architecture of the state in post–Civil War America. As Erik Mathisen demonstrates, the question of “loyalty” in wartime and postwar Mississippi raised questions of state authority under occupation, as well as the security of property in the shifting tides of war. Gregory Downs extends this discussion to postwar North Carolina, where the Freedmen’s Bureau’s gargantuan mission and tragically understaffed organization revealed the limits of state authority at a time when contemporaries wondered if the Civil War had really ended. James Illingworth shows that the uncertain legitimacy of the wartime and postwar state in multicultural New Orleans created a vacuum that could be filled by violent revolutionary and counter-revolutionary actors.

At the heart of the struggle over the postwar state was a contest over labor and class, at times, but not always, across the color line. Michael Fitzgerald examines the social basis of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan and concludes that the core leadership of this terrorist organization centered on downwardly mobile sons of planters who suffered catastrophic losses of property and proved especially sensitive to freed people’s challenges to their traditional authority. Susan O’Donovan explains the remarkable durability of the radical black political community in Wilmington, North Carolina, as a result of access to seaborne ideas and skilled trade possibilities coupled with a relatively undisturbed network of kinship that stretched from the 1850s to the 1890s. Brian Kelly, however, notes that class differences within the black population of the South Carolina lowcountry helped undermine Radical Reconstruction in the state and paved the way for a more conservative, “accommodationist” black politics by the 1890s.

Perhaps most interesting for Register readers are the essays on the reach of Reconstruction outside the Deep South. J. Michael Rhyne’s analysis of Regulator violence in postwar Kentucky underscores the continuing struggle over family labor in a state where many slaveholders remained loyal to the Union and refused to accept emancipation. Jonathan Bryant’s essay on a supposed insurrection along Georgia’s Ogeechee River reveals the power of a national press in framing the [End Page 691] link between violence, class, and the postwar state. Bruce Baker orients the lens toward the uppermost sections of South Carolina, where mountain whites considered and ultimately rejected Radical Republicanism because of its failure to address the local economy under threat by railroad construction and distillery taxation. Finally, Thomas Holt places the entire question of slavery and citizenship in international and even contemporary context, linking current debates over immigration and labor to the post–Civil War struggle over the very meaning of freedom.

In all, the essays...