This is a powerful and insightful history of the emancipation of the slaves at the end of the Civil War, and the subsequent period of Reconstruction. Eric Foner contends that Reconstruction is probably the most misunderstood era of American history, as commonly accepted pronouncements about the period were mostly from hostile opponents of the sweeping social changes that the government tried to enact at the time. In fact, as Foner ably demonstrates, Reconstruction was actually an intensive program to include former slaves in the political and economic life of the South, and to quickly implement a wholesale replacement for the ruined slave economy that previously dominated the region. It actually worked for about a decade, with the emergence of many Black politicians and community leaders. But unfortunately the system was overthrown by the White power elite who yearned for a return to the system of economic and social subjugation, leading to the shameful Jim Crow system that was an embarrassment for America's democratic goals until the Civil Rights era.
This outstanding work of historical research by Foner uncovers the true issues behind the efforts of African Americans to achieve equal political and economic rights, and he also adds many insights on how deep outstanding issues from the Emancipation, Reconstruction and Civil Rights eras are still relevant to racial equality today. (Plus, an interesting bonus in Foner's work is the realization that the Democratic and Republican parties, when it comes to everything from race relations to fiscal policy, have completely reversed their positions since the late 1800s, and have effectively replaced each other.) Also, this book is very richly illustrated, and be sure to check out the essays contributed by Joshua Brown, who in an especially eye-opening way examines the representation of African Americans, and civil rights issues, in public art from different periods. The picture is often ugly, but this book brings the knowledge that extinguishes ignorance. [~doomsdayer520~]