From Publishers Weekly
In his bold and extensively researched study of the black political traditions emerging out of slavery, Hahn continues the field's ongoing demolition of the myth of the submissive slave cowering before his master and the ignorant freedman passively waiting for his "40 acres and a mule" to fall from the sky. In their place, he offers an occasionally overstated but compelling portrait of rural Southern blacks fighting for political and economic power despite entrenched and often violent obstacles. From clan-based organization on the plantation through Reconstruction-era political party mobilization to the rise in emigrationist sentiment culminating in Garveyism in the 1920s, Hahn describes the serious groundwork that became most visible with the franchise but had formed long before the Civil War. He is at his strongest chronicling the hidden history of slave resistance, emphasizing slaves as agents of change, and spends less time on the extent and dimensions of psychological slavery, the vestiges of which continued well after emancipation. Hahn also minimizes the colonialist impulses behind the formation of Liberia, treating emigrationism as an expression of black resistance. While the book's prose is often congested, the research is formidable, bringing to the fore intricate histories of unknown but significant struggles. Original and deeply informed, the book does an excellent job of rendering those devoted "to the making of a new political nation while they made themselves into a new people."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Looking back on his antebellum childhood, Booker T. Washington wondered at how slaves "on the remotest plantations" had so knowledgeablydebated "the great National questions." Hahn argues, in this ambitious and fascinating book, that associations of slaves—centered on kinship, work, and religion—were far more intricate, enduring, and politicized than has been realized. For Hahn, plantation life was the crucible in which modern black political communities were formed. Slaves who hid under porches to overhear news later astonished their former masters by marching in groups to the polls (with women acting as "enforcers" of party loyalty). One of the most striking theses here is that black rural laborers, rather than urban, educated freeborn leaders, radicalized Reconstruction. Freed slaves were also, Hahn writes, some of the most important advocates America ever had for a broad concept of citizenship based not on property or education but on "manhood"—for which he calls them "the jacobins of the country."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker