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Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War remains a topic that elicits little interest from the reading public. This is unfortunate because the period is as rich in historical drama and character complexity as any topic from the war itself. Case in point, Searching for Freedom by G. Ward Hubbs. In his latest book, Hubbs examines the Reconstruction archetypes—klansman, carpetbagger, scalawag, and freedman—through the lives of four actual representatives of each: Ryland Randolph, Arad Lakin, Noah Cloud, and Shandy Jones. The author's selection of these four men is not arbitrary, but ingenious. They are all depicted in a notorious woodcut political cartoon, in which a Ku Klux donkey (i.e., the Democratic Party) is sauntering away from the bodies of two Republicans (one a northerner, the other a southerner) hanging from a lifeless tree meant to symbolize the empty promise of emancipation. The time was the autumn of 1868; the place was Tuscaloosa, Alabama. From this connection, Hubbs explores the motives that brought these men together. Simply put, they were waging a different kind of war, an ideological one over the meaning of freedom. For Hubbs, this is both a unifying theme for his character analysis and the source of all friction during the Reconstruction period. [End Page 158]
Hubbs begins with the odd man out, the Klansman Ryland Randolph. Randolph typified the mindset that led to secession and rebellion. He was restless and combative, always on guard for challenges to his sense of honor. According to Hubbs, freedom for Randolph meant defending the rights of one's people, in this case white southerners. To that end, Randolph fought in the Confederate Army during the war and rode with the Klan after it. During Reconstruction, he was not asserting his freedom so much as seeking to reclaim it from a Republican Party that had replaced the Union Army and a formerly enslaved race that now saw itself as his equal. As editor of the Tuscaloosa Independent Monitor, it was Randolph who created and published the ominous political cartoon, one that encapsulated his visceral concept of freedom. Hubbs rightly exposes Randolph's crude and unsavory traits (the editor, for instance, knifed a black man in broad daylight). But to his credit, Hubbs also presents the Klansman as more than a mere barbarian. Randolph was an atheist and was well read. His woodcuts were despicable, yet also masterful works of propaganda. And Randolph's search for freedom, according to the author, was arguably the most natural: the protection of kith and kin from any and all threats.
The middle portion of the book concentrates on the dual white face of the Republican Party in the South. Arad S. Lakin, the carpet-bagger, was a New Yorker whose physical size matched his religious zeal. A minister in the Methodist Church, Lakin's calling took him to Indiana, where he served as a chaplain in one of that state's Union regiments. Afterward, he moved to Alabama on a mission to resurrect a church organization torn asunder by war. Hubbs notes that Lakin's version of freedom comported with the Christian paradox of discipleship: one is liberated through selfless service to others. Accordingly, Lakin welcomed black Alabamians into his fold. Noah B. Cloud, the scalawag, was a pre-war Whig who promoted agricultural innovation and economic diversification. To Cloud, ignorance was a shackle worse than even slavery. Therefore, as Hubbs points out, Cloud's search for freedom steered him toward public education for [End Page 159] all. Through the complementary institutions of church and school, Lakin and Cloud strived to empower a war-torn populace with the tools of faith and knowledge. The former became president of The University of Alabama (although local whites prevented him from ever assuming his duties), the latter, superintendent of education in the state. In discussing these two men, Hubbs decisively shatters the stereotype of carpetbaggers as swindlers and scalawags as scoundrels.
Hubbs closes with...