- Atlanta, Cradle of the New South: Race and Remembering in the Civil War’s Aftermath by William A. Link
William Link’s Atlanta, Cradle of the New South is a well-researched, readable study of Atlanta during the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the early decades of the New South. Link has constructed a concise yet rich narrative about Atlanta during the Civil War and its aftermath, and of the struggles of blacks and whites to rebuild the city according to their expectations of the future. Though historians of the period may find little new in this account, the book offers a valuable examination of the politics, social transformations, and economic developments of the postemancipation era as they played out on the ground of an iconic New South city.
Atlanta has rightly received considerable attention as both a Civil War battleground and a site for realizing white southerners’ visions of New [End Page 609] South economic development. Scholars of the New South have long documented Atlanta as the fount of New South boosterism and industrialization, and social historians such as Allison Dorsey, Tera Hunter, and Georgina Hickey have examined African American community building and the particular tribulations of black and white working-class women in postemancipation Atlanta. The benefit of Link’s book is that rather than focusing on a particular group of people, it touches on the military, social, political, and economic aspects of the striving city, allowing the reader to engage with the questions of labor, race, politics, and economic development in a single volume.
The book is arranged in chronological order, beginning with the consequences of the Civil War for Atlanta—and in particular, the city’s destruction. Link’s first two chapters examine the nature of warfare in the city, the effects and perceptions of Sherman’s March, and the centrality of the war’s devastation to the city’s landscape and self-perception. Link then proceeds to explore the “antagonistic visions of the future” that came into conflict at the war’s end (61). Link describes the meaning of the war for Atlanta’s black citizens and the mechanisms white Atlantans used to regain political and economic control of the city. His account of struggles over labor, the ambiguous role of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan will be recognizable to those familiar with the work of Eric Foner, Steven Hahn, Willie Lee Rose, and Heather Cox Richardson. The advantage of Link’s close study of Atlanta, however, is that the reader gleans details that might not appear in a work of larger scope: the controversy over a proposed Lincoln monument in 1867 and the assassination of Republican activist George Ashburn (which actually took place in Columbus), for example, help the reader appreciate how the conflicts over Civil War memory and the politics of Reconstruction took shape on a local level.
In “We Are Rising: Schooling the City,” Link considers the role of educational institutions in the project of racial uplift and equality. Though historians such as Jacqueline Jones and James D. Anderson have explored the motivations and ramifications of northern educational reformers (such as the American Missionary Association) in the postemancipation South, and Joseph O. Jewell has investigated the relationship between education and ideas about middle-class respectability, Link’s attention to education in the context of Atlanta’s development helps to establish how an enclave of educators “provided a precedent for the achievement of racial equality—and a competing vision of the South’s future” in the shadows of boosterism and white supremacy (135).
As suggested in the book’s subtitle, Link weaves the issue of historical memory throughout his study, arguing that myths about the past, [End Page 610] particularly the Civil War, were “directly related to the shaping, branding, and self-identity of Henry Grady’s New South” (2). Link points out that the destruction of Atlanta during the Civil War became a prevailing trope in portraying the city...