- Remembering Reconstruction: Struggles over the Meaning of America's Most Turbulent Era ed. by Carole Emberton and Bruce E. Baker
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There has been a proliferation of books over the past thirty years exploring how the Civil War was remembered. Yet, just as the history of Reconstruction has often been overlooked by Civil War historians, so have memory scholars passed over the decade following the Civil War. The memory of Reconstruction is often treated as a side issue to the memory of the war itself. Only in 2007 did Bruce Baker's What Reconstruction Meant: Historical Memory in the American South provide the first major monograph on the memory of Reconstruction. Now, Bruce Baker and Carole Emberton—whose own work on the legacy of Reconstruction has been groundbreaking—have teamed up to edit a collection entirely on the memory of Reconstruction.
Remembering Reconstruction: Struggles over the Meaning of America's Most Turbulent Era is a must-read for scholars of the American South, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and race relations. With ten well-edited and easily readable chapters, the book will be useful for teaching both graduate students and undergraduates. The chapters work well together to provide an overarching look at different elements of Reconstruction memory and how race and politics continue to shape the way Americans recall the past. The volume makes clear that recollections of Reconstruction were not only central to the legacy of the Civil War, but also to shaping twentieth-century American culture and society. The book is divided into four sections, each tackling a different theme, although not surprisingly the issue of race remains central throughout most chapters.
Remembering Reconstruction's first section, "White Supremacy and the Memories of Reconstruction" includes a tour de force in K. Stephen Prince's chapter on "Jim Crow Memory." Prince argues that Reconstruction memory was fundamental in bringing about and defending Jim Crow laws. Disenfranchisement of African Americans was justified partially with a memory of Reconstruction in which African American misrule, brought about by northern intervention, [End Page 410] had harmed the South. Jason Morgan Ward's chapter examines how Reconstruction continued to be used against Civil Rights legislation during the Roosevelt Era by southern legislators committed to white supremacy. Together these chapters make clear that white supremacy was central to southern white memories of the period.
The second section, on "Black-Counter Memories of Reconstruction," looks at efforts by African Americans to argue against narratives pushed by white supremacists. African American memories are still often neglected by scholars; this section provides new approaches and case studies that will be useful to historians considering memory studies but whom find themselves daunted by how to approach and reach African American counter-memories. Hopefully, these three excellent chapters by Shawn Leigh Alexander, Justin Behrend, and Carole Emberton will inspire more historians to take on this topic. Emberton's chapter in particular provides excellent guidance for anyone approaching the WPA slave narratives.
Mark Elliot's, Natalie Ring's, and Samuel Schaffer's chapters in the third section on "Reconstruction and the Creation of the American Empire" provide an international turn. Schaffer examines the obvious case study of Woodrow Wilson and his approach to reconstructing Europe, compellingly arguing that Wilson's approach to post-World War I Europe was reflective of his understanding of the South's Reconstruction. Ring and Elliot's chapters examine the ties between Reconstruction's memory, race, and imperialism during the 1890s.
The final section moves forward to examine post-Civil Rights era memories of Reconstruction. Elaine Parson's chapter on how the Klan appears in text books is one of the best. She argues that the Klan has in essence become a stand-in for racial violence, leading the public to overlook how pervasive and normalized racialized violence was in the South. Paired with Bruce Baker's chapter on a parade celebrating the redshirts in 1970, this final section reminds readers of the stakes and why Reconstruction memory remains so...