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Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy (Fred W. Morrison Series in Southern Studies) 1st Edition

9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0807848395
ISBN-10: 0807848395
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Editorial Reviews


"Mr. Kantrowitz writes well, argues coherently, and has a strong point of view." -- WASHINGTON TIMES

"[A] thoughtful biography. . . . Thoroughly researched, brilliantly argued." -- NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

"[An] excellent biography." -- LIBRARY JOURNAL


Mr. Kantrowitz writes well, argues coherently, and has a strong point of view.--Washington Times

|Well researched. It shows how demagogues in a leadership role can manipulate the public's mind in such a twisted manner so as to cause havoc throughout an entire area.--Rapport

|Kantrowitz has not written a conventional biography. . . . In describing Tillman's political maneuvers, Kantrowitz thoughtfully deals with many of the issues that concern historians today: the ideological construction of whiteness with all its privileges, the importance of gender and the complex nature of class relations in a biracial society less than a generation removed from slavery. Remarkably, he manages to do so without retreating into the mind-numbing jargon that often accompanies such studies.--Washington Post Book World

|Kantrowitz's excellent new book is a study of Tillman's thinking on white supremacy and patriarchy. It is also a look at the environment that spawned such ideas: the South Carolina of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.--Review of Politics

|[A] thoughtful biography. . . . Thoroughly researched, brilliantly argued. . . . A rich and insightful dissection of the rise of American racism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Kantrowitz has given us the best study we have of Benjamin Tillman, but he has also given us a way to understand how racism took hold in the post-Civil War South and gradually spread its tentacles to the rest of the country.--Charles B. Dew, New York Times Book Review

|Many of us preach the need to place political history in its social context, with emphasis on the themes of race, class, and gender that have become central to the genre of social history. In this superb biography of the white supremacist 'Pitchfork Ben' Tillman, Stephen Kantrowitz practices what we preach. Tillman created the model for two generations of Southern 'demagogues'; this biography offers a model of how to write about them.--James M. McPherson, Princeton University

|Kantrowitz's engaging stories and meticulous research offer a brilliantly gendered explanation of white supremacy. This book is a must for anyone interested in Southern history or American democracy. A first-rate book by a first-rate author.--Orville Vernon Burton, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

|Kantrowitz has written an interesting, elequent, and important study of Ben Tillman and his vision of white supremacy. . . . When other scholars revisit the other architects of postbellum white supremacy, they necessarily will begin with Kantrowitz's impressive study.--Journal of Southern History

|White supremacy and patriarchy created Ben Tillman, a son of the Old South who went forth to create the New South. Stephen Kantrowitz's meticulous research breathes life into Pitchfork Ben and rebuilds his world. And a meaner, rougher world it is. Kantrowitz's skillful analysis of the connections between gender, race, and the polling place represents the best of the new southern history. His eloquent narrative will make everyone who reads this book stand in awe of hatred's power.--Glenda E. Gilmore, Yale University

|[An] excellent biography.--Library Journal

|Kantrowitz's major achievements [are] in relocating Tillman in the southern social structure, and in underscoring the violence that he and his ilk used to regain political ascendency after the Civil War.--American Historical Review

|A thoughtful biography of one of the archracists and pillars of Jim Crow in the post-Reconstruction South.--New York Times Book Review

|This is state-of-the-art political history. . . . Kantrowitz's biography of South Carolina's leading political figure in the age of populism, disfranchisement, and lynching is exceptional for the depth of its understanding of the period, its ever more nuanced interpretations, and especially its intricate narrative about the changing meanings of white supremacy. . . . If this book is indeed state-of-the-art, the art of political history today is in good shape.--North Carolina Historical Review

|Stephen Kantrowitz's new book merits serious attention. Based on broad research in primary sources, including an impressive array of manuscript collections, it has immense strengths. Most important, Kantrowitz takes Tillman seriously, recognizing that he was far more than some country rube and race baiter. . . . I commend Professor Kantrowitz for giving us a first-rate book.--Journal of American History


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Product Details

  • Series: Fred W. Morrison Series in Southern Studies
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1 edition (April 24, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807848395
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807848395
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #957,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stephen Kantrowitz was raised in Brookline, Massachusetts. Since 1995 he has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is Professor of History. His work explores questions of race, citizenship, and political life through the lives of nineteenth-century Americans. A New Englander by birth and a Southern historian by education, he now divides his time between a college town in the upper Midwest and a Danish fishing village-turned-commuter suburb.

His first book, "Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy" (UNC Press, 2000), was a New York Times Notable Book and won several scholarly awards. His second book is "More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889" (Penguin, 2012). He is co-editor of a volume of essays on the history of African-American Freemasonry, "All Men Free and Brethren" (Cornell University Press, 2013).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
Senator Ben Tillman of South Carolina rose to the heights of power in the United States on a record of racial murder, political demogoguery and aristocratic deceit. His political career, documented here with painstaking research and brilliant prose, did a great deal to mark the world we inhabit. This is a book about the political project of white supremacy, about how rich and powerful white men persuaded poor and angry white men that it was African Americans, not wealthy whites, who constituted the central threat to their families and their fates. "Pitchfork Ben," Kantrowitz proves, was not a populist or a tribune of the common man, but a terrorist, an organizer, a tyrant and a bully. This beautifully-written biography grabbed my attention from the first page and continually surprised me with its revelations about race and American politics. The central figure is a despot and the story is tragic, and yet this wonderful work of history manages to inspire the reader and to remind us of the best possibilities of American democracy. This masterpiece about race and democracy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also speaks to persistent and disturbing realities in the contemporary world. U.S history at its best--a rewarding and absorbing piece of writing.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on December 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy by Stephen Kantrowitz is a well written and well researched voyage through an ugly chapter in American history that still reverberates strongly throughout the entire culture. The selection of Ben Tillman as the focus point through which to examine the victory of white supremacy in the South after Reconstruction is brilliant and frighteninly effective. This book is not so much the biography of Ben Tillman but really the biography of white supremacy as a political idea and ideal. This book captures all of the evil idealism, political pragmatism, the unique blend of bomblast and subtlety, and, especially, the terror and violence used by Ben Tillman and his ilk to secure their goals of making the political system of South Carolina all white and all Democrat. It is a wonderful book of an ugly time that is important, unfortunately, to understanding our own time. Well done.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
I'm currently reading "Ben Tillman And The Reconstruction Of White Supremacy" as part of my ongoing effort to understand the failure of Reconstruction. This is an excellent book that, as one of the reviewers has indicated, is more a history of the post-Reconstruction development of white supremacy in the United States than it is of "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman, although Tillman's life story may be said to be a perfect illustration of white supremacy. Tillman, as a "Red-Shirt" mob and militia leader, governor, and U.S. Senator,loved to brag of his successful efforts to disenfranchise Afro Americans through fraud, murder, manipulation of the laws and legal processes, usurpation of legitmate governmental authority,campaigns of terror, lies, deceits, and the dividing and conquering of any cooperative, biracial political efforts by playing whites and their fears of "negro domination" against Afro Americans and their interests. But more, Tillman did not limit his attacks to Afro Americans aspiring to realize the full benefits of citizenship: poor, landless, uninfluential whites, supporters and sympathizers for Afro Americans' increased citizenship rights, whites who disagreed with his policies and political rule, Republicans, and the federal government were all his enemies and he attacked all of them with the same duplicitous ferocity. It is all too apparent that the legacy that he left was embraced by racists and segregationists throughout most of this century in their opposition to civil rights activities.
For those interested in the "real", too long hidden history of race and race relations in this country, this book is an absolute must for their libraries.
In my view, Kantrowitz joins Leon Litwack, Ira Berlin, Eric Foner, W.E.B.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. L. Huff on July 27, 2014
Format: Paperback
Stephen Kantrowitz' reconstruction of the life and career of Senator Ben Tillman is a superb analysis of a conveniently-forgotten American public figure. Tillman's proto-Nazi ravings are not the stuff of turn of the century nostalgia; our romance with the era of The Music Man has terminal Alzheimer's when it comes to the words of the tune. Tillman's career spanned the post-civil war "redemption" and the beginning of the civil rights era. The "troubles" of the 1960s would have gained his contemptuous nod as "fulfillment" of his worst on-stage nightmares.

An important question Kantrowitz successfully answers: why did "revisionist Reconstruction" and Tillman's race-baiting take off in those two decades from 1890-1910? It was not mere nostalgia for the Lost Cause that led to segregation, disfranchisement, the rebirth of the KKK or Tillman's demagoguery. The South was not quite the old Land of Cotton but an urban-industrial society in first development. Urban centers brought in free movement of people and ideas, butting heads in trains or voting stations; competing for new wage jobs; giving birth to populist and socialist movements and organized labor. Race was the card to keep the new ways from infringing on old power structures. Tillman played his hand like a high-roller while spouting the era's populist/progressive platitudes.

Perhaps more amazing to modern readers is how his message transcended his native region, drawing applause in the Midwest, Far West and even in New England. The same urbanization and influx of new people made northern and Midwestern Americans think twice about their untested liberalism. Feeling "mugged" by change they were ripe to revise old attitudes to resist new forces. What may be overlooked, though, is the double standard in free speech.
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