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The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom (The Nathan I. Huggins Lectures) 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674032965
ISBN-10: 0674032969
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Hahn, a University of Pennsylvania history professor and author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning A Nation under Our Feet (2003), bases his new book on the Nathan I. Higgins lectures he recently delivered at Harvard. Unquestionably scholarly in preparation and presentation, the book is not completely limited to a scholarly readership because it imparts too much important information and too many new interpretations to be ignored by a good general reader with a solid background. Three longish essays isolate a body of “proof” standing behind Hahn’s abiding belief that although certain factors in black American history present themselves as real and authentic, most historians have largely been blind to them, and their virtual nonexistence in historians’ eyes have made them invisible to the general public as well. These three factors are that the U.S. was a slaveholding nation, and slavery existed not simply in the South; a great slave rebellion during the Civil War has been largely ignored; and Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association were a far bigger movement than has been credited. --Brad Hooper


Hahn has emerged as the pre-eminent historian of black politics in the apparently lost decades between the end of the Civil War and the stirrings of the modern civil rights movement… In The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom, Hahn explains that the decades after Reconstruction were far from a political vacuum for Southern blacks. Instead, black people worked to wring as much as they could from the promises of the Reconstruction years, then regrouped after the Confederate counterrevolution in 1877 and continued to organize… At the heart of Hahn’s critique is an attempt to recover African-Americans as political actors: to insist that, under slavery and ‘freedom,’ in the North and South, black politics was everywhere. This politics has been obscured in popular history, and even in academic circles, because it sits so poorly with two cherished myths about American history: that a commitment to freedom was a strand in the nation’s political DNA, and that black people have patiently pursued integration since 1776. Hahn wants us to be bolder in exploring the hidden corners of black history, to set aside the integrationist narrative in search of the totality of black experience. (Nicholas Guyatt The Nation 2010-06-14)

We tend to think of the history of slavery in the United States in terms of bright lines separating North and South, slave and free, pre- and post-Emancipation. But this view, says Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Steven Hahn, vastly oversimplifies a complex and labile situation. Building a case against the received understanding, Hahn argues passionately in the lectures that make up this collection that the boundaries of slavery were indistinct. There were slaves and owners in the North—he reproduces an 1851 notice warning the ‘Colored People of Boston’ to ‘Keep a Sharp Look Out’ for ‘Kidnappers and Slave Catchers’—and communities of free blacks and escaped slaves even in the South, as well as a patchwork of laws and practices that reigned west of the ever mobile frontier and elsewhere outside the country’s borders. Furthermore, the perception of enslaved blacks as a powerless and inchoate mass, passive recipients of their emancipation, is belied by evidence of organized action on such a scale that Hahn considers it tantamount to a great slave rebellion unrecognized because of white America’s paternalistic myopia then and since, an intriguing proposition that is bound to stir controversy within academia and beyond. (Amanda Heller Boston Globe 2009-04-19)

No one has explained the story of emancipation, and its grassroots politics, as well as Steven Hahn. He demonstrates that the Civil War was but one turning point in a long history of resistance, rebellion, and mobilization on the part of slaves, refugee freedmen, and new post-war citizens. He crystallizes W. E. B. Du Bois’ argument, rooting it in the kind of research Du Bois could never do in Jim Crow America. Freedom came; but more so, it was seized and converted into a black politics that forever reshaped America. (David Blight, author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American History)

Steven Hahn brings a luminous originality to every historical subject he touches. The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom makes clear, once again, why he is one of the very best American historians writing today. (Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship: A Human History)

In this important book, Steven Hahn raises and confronts compelling questions about the political activism of slaves and freed people that have been previously either ignored or insufficiently addressed. Especially intriguing is Hahn’s discussion of a black political underground from the emancipation period to World War II. This book will generate a much-needed debate among all concerned with political and cultural divisions in our society. (William Julius Wilson, author of More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City)

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Product Details

  • Series: The Nathan I. Huggins Lectures (Book 11)
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (March 31, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674032969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674032965
  • Product Dimensions: 4.7 x 1 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #934,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Steven Hahn's new book, "The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom" (2009) is based upon the Nathan L. Huggins Lectures Hahn delivered at Harvard University. The Huggins lectures are designed to explore important themes in African American history. Hahn is Professor of American History at the University of Pennsylvania. His best-known work, "A Nation under our Feet" (2004) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize, and the Merle Curti Prize in Social History. The book tells how rural southern African Americans took steps towards their own political empowerment beginning with the period of slavery and continuing through the Great Migration northward beginning early in the Twentieth Century.

Hahn's new book continues the theme of "A Nation under our Feet" by examining how African American history illustrates the ideals and goals of "self-determination, self-governance, and self-defense". (Preface, xvi) Hahn wants to show how African Americans took control of their own destinies and tried aggressively to define their own characters beginning in the days of slavery. Hahn wants to counter what he perceives as received accounts that African Americans tended to respond reactively to slavery and segregation. He also emphasizes the separateness of African American political activity as African Americans attempted to find their own way and not simply seek equal rights in the larger society. Hahn's approach sympathizes with modern forms of African American political activity such as Black Power and the Black Panthers. It is somewhat critical of more mainstream approaches which emphasized the integration of African Americans as citizens with full rights and equality in American life.
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As we move into the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War THIS is THE book we all need to read. Go get it!
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