Dolphin Stories

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Reconstruction Book Strikes a Chord

9:12 AM :: 4214 Views

History, many have stated, has a way of repeating itself.

For Le Moyne History Professor Doug Egerton, his latest book may have struck a chord because of this very premise. "Perhaps because much of it sounds so oddly familiar to the modern ear," Egerton said, when asked why "The Wars of Reconstruction" has gotten so much attention. "Here are determined black veterans, well-intentioned young white progressives, dedicated women and teachers, laboring to democratize the nation. They tried to integrate schools, public transportation, and secure voting rights regardless of race. For Americans my age, this could be veterans marching home in 1945 or young activists in 1964."

Since its release in January 2014, the book, Egerton's sixth, has been reviewed by several prominent outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, Publisher's Weekly, and the Sunday New York Times. A segment on his book is scheduled to air on C-Span2 on Sunday, Feb. 9 and Monday, Feb. 10, and he has had many other interview requests, including some from as far away as Ireland.

For Egerton, writing about the Reconstruction was a natural progression from his previous book, 2010'sYear of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election That Brought on the Civil War. "I wanted to move that story forward, but also to avoid the battles and general saga of the Civil War. How the president-elect of 1860 was changed by the conflict and how black activists and white progressives prodded him into action and then battled with his successor was a story that hadn't really been told. Plus, over the years I've given a lot of public talks in the South, and I'm always a bit shocked at the widely held view that there was something wrongheaded and vindictive about Reconstruction... Before the 1870 ratification of the 15th Amendment, only about 20 percent of black New Yorkers could vote, and the story of those battles and those to integrate streetcars in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Manhattan are in the book too."

Egerton's interest in the South stems from his family; his paternal grandmother was born in Tennessee in 1885, the daughter of an elderly Confederate officer and slaveholder. While in college, the series "Roots" was shown on television, and his normally soft-spoken grandmother became furious about the way in which the Old South was depicted. "She assured me that they – meaning the planter class – ‘were always kind to our people,' an inadvertent admission that African American slaves were indeed human property. I think that's when I decided to write and teach about race relations in the early American South."

Much of the book was written while he spent the 2011-12 academic year at University College Dublin, where he held the Mary Ball Washington Fulbright Chair in American History.


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