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Equality: An American Dilemma, 1866-1896 Hardcover – August 20, 2019
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"A lucid, thoroughly researched account . . . [Postel] breaks new ground . . . Equality reminds us of a homegrown radical heritage that critics of today's deeply unequal America can be inspired by and must improve upon." --Eric Foner, The Nation
"Lucid, engrossing, and lively." --Fergus M. Bordewich, The Wall Street Journal
"An expansive portrait of the post-Civil War U.S. . . . Postel has written an intelligent plea for 'a just and equal society.'” --Kevin Canfield, San Francisco Chronicle
"A lucid and deeply researched investigation of three of the post-Civil War era's most powerful social reform movements and their charismatic leaders." --Library Journal
"Persuasively argue[d] . . . With deep research and clear prose, Postel ably demonstrates that African-Americans were consistently excluded from these reformers’ visions of a more equal America. Postel’s broad and valuable study ably illuminates the era." --Publishers Weekly
"A closely argued account of how various constituencies . . . vied for a place at the table in the reunited republic . . . Postel has a keen eye for unlikely juxtapositions . . . [Equality is] of much use in understanding the course of late-19th-Century American history, a time of turmoil that resembles our own." --Kirkus
"Americans today are torn by the fierce politics of inequality, but not for the first time in our history. Charles Postel's urgent yet subtle account of the first American Gilded Age ought to be required reading for understanding the nation's long egalitarian tradition, with lessons for confronting our second Gilded Age." ―Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy and the Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor of the American Revolutionary Era at Princeton University
"We live in a new Gilded Age, Americans often hear, a time of soaring wealth for a few and growing inequality for many. Charles Postel helps us understand the first Gilded Age, when those problems were met with unprecedented organizing and mobilizing by Americans who felt themselves dispossessed and disfranchised. In his sweeping, engaged, and humane account, Postel shows the accomplishments and failures of the efforts by working people, farmers, and women to reorient the United States toward greater justice and equality." ―Edward Ayers, author of America on the Eve of the Civil War and the Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and President Emeritus at the University of Richmond
"With impeccable scholarship and brilliant narration, Charles Postel has rewritten the history of post-Civil War social movements. Racial exclusion, he shows, was the Achilles' heel of many them despite their commitment to economic democracy. This book is both timely and required reading for anyone interested in the problem of equality today." --Manisha Sinha, author of The Slaver's Cause and the James L. and Shirley A. Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut
“Perfectly timed to help us understand the historical roots of inequalities that plague our society today, Charles Postel’s Equality is also a compelling and elegant interpretation of how those inequalities emerged during the watershed of American history―when struggles for equality shaped modern America after the Civil War. An enduring achievement.” ―Kathryn Kish Sklar, author of Florence Kelley and the Nation’s Work and Distinguished Professor of History at the State University of New York, Binghamton
“This brilliant and beautifully researched story about white supremacy in American politics reveals the depth of its entanglement with our egalitarian traditions. Postel’s new book is innovative, persuasive, and crushingly timely.” ―Robin L. Einhorn, author of American Taxation, American Slavery and the Preston Hotchkis Professor in the History of the United States at UC Berkeley
“Charles Postel's Equality is a brilliant reinterpretation of the egalitarian social movements that swept the United States during the decades following the Civil War. No other historian has more skillfully explored the economic, racial, and sexual tensions that pervaded these struggles for equality and that persist to the present. After Postel's scrutiny, the first Gilded Age will never look the same. Neither will the second--the one we now inhabit.” ―Jackson Lears, author of Rebirth of a Nation, The Making of Modern America and the Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers University
“Equality is a deeply researched, beautifully written, and brilliantly argued history of the epic struggle to define the meaning of equality in post-Civil War America. This magnificent portrait of the farmer’s Grange, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Knights of Labor is filled with fresh insights into the social movements that took root during Reconstruction and blossomed in the Gilded Age. Confronting some of the most difficult questions in American history, Postel adds new dimensions to our understanding of the racial, gender, and class inequalities that continue to shape our social and political landscape.” ―Crystal N. Feimster, author of Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching and Associate Professor of African American Studies at Yale University
About the Author
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As documented by Postel, racial oppression is the overriding, unifying theme of American history. Corporate power follows a parallel path.
He describes three major organizations that sprang up after the Civil War with laudable, bold goals in promoting social justice--and then describes how each fell into collusion with the Southern white supremacists who destroyed Reconstruction and relegated African-Americans to subservience. The Knights of Labor showed the most promise, but stayed silent when it most mattered and black workers were being murdered by white militias.
Although focusing on the betrayal of African-Americans--and opposition to immigration from China, Eastern Europe and Southern Europe--by all the progressive white organization of the late nineteenth century, Postel reports a number of other little-known facts about the time, such as fledgling and inadequate attempts to internationalize the progressive movements. Postel also introduces the complex, interlocking, and contradictory philosophies behind different movement leaders.
Entering the 1890s, with the rise of both Populism and Jim Crow, the narrative loses detail. One can't really trace the evolution of the nineteenth-century movements into our own time over a couple dozen pages, but I appreciate Postel's concern for showing how we live the sad legacy of the post-Civil War years.