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Reviews251 lem is especially pronounced in this case because readers might not know the first thing about early Louisiana. As a solution, Usner divides the book into two halves. The first presents a thematic narrative while the second consists of a series of analytical chapters on key topics. This solution may not be entirely satisfactory, but it has the virtue of permitting him to explore important issues in considerable depth. Nor is the result as cumbersome as it might sound; Usner manages it with an economy of prose that makes his strategy all the more forgivable. This small quarrel should not diminish Usner's remarkable achievement; it is without question the most illuminating contribution yet made to the early history of Louisiana. In his introduction Usner decries the tendency for historians of early America either to ignore this region or to exoticise (and thus trivialize) it. He has succeeded admirably in bringing it to life, in capturing the unique features that set it apart from other regions, and in making it comprehensible as a variation on more familiar patterns of colonial development. Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction. By Eric Foner. Oxford University Press, 1993. 290 pp. Cloth, $75.00. Reviewed by Wayne K. Durrill, associate professor ofhistory at the University ofCincinnati and author ofWat of Another Kind: A Southern Community in the Great Rebellion. Between 1865 and 1876 at least 1,465 black men held public office in the former Confederate states. They were a varied lot. Some such as U.S. Congressmen Blanche K. Bruce were well educated, articulate, wealthy, and politically well connected. Bruce and others like him are well known to American historians. Others are not. Take, for example, Abram Dukes, a native of South Carolina who served in the Georgia House of Representatives in 1871. It is known that he was a laborer, could not read or write, and had dark skin—and received a "warning" from the Ku Klux Klan meant to terrify him. Most black officeholders fell somewhere between these two extremes. They possessed a modest education and property valued at a few hundred dollars, and many lived on the salaries they received from their political positions. These were neither the rapacious, corrupt opportunists portrayed as late as 1947 in a decidedly racist historiography—Merton Coulter being the chief offender—nor the self-less heroes idealized in biographical dictionaries such as Men of Mark. According to Foner they were ordinary men who tried to make a livelihood for themselves, and at the same time pursued the interests of their families, friends, and neighbors , just as did other officeholders of the time. Foner has chronicled the lives of these men in a book bound to become a standard reference work. Each biographical sketch includes the usual birth and death dates, principle occupation, and the state in which the subject held office as well as rare information about each man's literacy, civil status before the Civil War, and skin color. Beyond that the length and detail of the sketches vary considerably. Naturally, those officeholders who have been the subject of extensive research by other scholars receive more attention, as do those few who left a paper trail in the records of the Freedman's Bureau or the American Missionary Association or who are remembered in hagiographie publications issued by various religious organizations. About others we learn considerably less, often only an 252Southern Cultures occupation and information on property holdings taken from the manuscript census. Even in such cases, however, a revealing portrait can be drawn when the sketches are considered collectively. We know from the manuscript census that 236 black officeholders during Reconstruction possessed no property of any kind in 1870 and that another 269 had acquired property valued at less than $500. That is, more than one-third of these public officeholders were poor men, an exercise in genuine democracy, according to Foner, not to be found either before or after "Black Reconstruction" anywhere in this country. The great strength of this biographical dictionary lies in the dramatic stories of individuals. John Scurlock, for example, was born a mulatto and a slave in Mississippi, the son of a slave...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 251-253
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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