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A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration
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A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  871 ratings  ·  33 reviews
This is the epic story of how African-Americans, in the six decades following slavery, transformed themselves into a political people--an embryonic black nation. As Steven Hahn demonstrates, rural African-Americans were central political actors in the great events of disunion, emancipation, and nation-building. At the same time, Hahn asks us to think in more expansive ways ...more
Paperback, 624 pages
Published April 28th 2005 by Belknap Press (first published April 30th 2003)
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robin friedman
Jan 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
How Southern Blacks Empowered Themselves

Steven Hahn's history "A Nation Under Our Feet" (2004) tells an inspiring and broad story: how rural Southern African Americans took steps towards political empowerment as a group beginning with the period of slavery and continuing through the Great Migration to the Northern states beginning early in the Twentieth Century. Hahn is a Professor of American History at the University of Pennsylvania.His book received, and justly so, the Pulitzer Prize, the Ban
Christopher Saunders
Monumental, Pulitzer-winning narrative history of African-American efforts before, during and after the Civil War to forge a cohesive community. Hahn (A Nation Without Borders) demonstrates that, long before emancipation, slaves in the South created intricate, informal networks of communication to keep abreast of politics and social developments; these laid the groundwork for the postwar emergence of an African-American political class. Thus, freedmen and women needed no encouragement from white ...more
Joseph Stieb
Jan 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Steven Hahn’s A Nation Under our Feet presents the history of black political struggles in the rural South from the last decades of slavery to the Great Migration. He reimagines African-American political history by expanding the definition of politics and focusing on black attempts to assert control over their own lives, shape and protect their communities, and gain political power. He succeeds less in dramatically reframing Southern political history from the Civil War to the turn of the centu ...more
Matthew Rohn
Aug 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very strong four stars. This book takes a wider period view of the reconstruction era that other works on the topic such as Foner's Reconstruction, which provides critical contextualization to reconstruction's causes and effects, but also situates the racial nadir of the late 1800s\early 1900s as being a long tail of slavery rather than as a lead in to the long civil rights movement as it is usually presented. The foregrounding of black citizenship politics over this timeframe, even in the lar ...more
Vincent DiGirolamo
May 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finished, history, 2018
Now we know better what those Great Migrationist carried with them and how incredible the Civil Rights movement was to overcome not just segregation and discrimination but a pervasive paramilitary politics that included assassination and mass murder as a matter of course. No wonder Liberia and Detroit and Oakland looked so appealing. No wonder that churches and women's social clubs loomed so large in the south and north. These and secret societies kept a political tradition going. Booker T. and ...more
Hannah Lawrence
Jan 13, 2008 is currently reading it
2004 Pulitzer Prize winner in History, This book is a very well written history of African American political struggles from the Civil war through reconstruction. I am enjoying this book a lot, and learning so much about a period in history I know so little about.
Stefania Dzhanamova
Jan 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Steven Hahn’s book tells the story of the Afro-Americans’ political struggle in the rural South.

Unlike in the other book’s on Reconstruction I’ve read, here the author aims to show that the African Americans’ striving for independence was not simply a result of white oppression, but had initiated in the earliest days of slavery.

Steven Hahn’s work starts with the pre-Civil War and Civil War periods. Hahn describes the slaves’ efforts to achieve at least a minimum level of control over their own
David Bates
May 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Stephen Hahn published A Nation Under Our Feet in 2003 to dispute treatments of Reconstruction which emphasized government decision making and Northern public opinion. Writing that “most of the relevant scholarship has been governed by something of a liberal integrationist framework,” Hahn criticized “a framework of analysis . . . that measures politicization chiefly by what came to freedpeople from the outside, and that privileges and lends legitimacy to certain sets of aspirations (inclusion a ...more
Dan Gorman
Mar 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: us-history
This powerful work of narrative history examines the political networks of black Americans before, during, and after the Civil War. Steven Hahn argues that slave political networks translated well, and easily, to post-Civil War politics, helping black Americans to organize along community, kin, and religious lines. Hahn covers a substantial amount of labor history, studying how black workers used strikes well past Reconstruction and into the Jim Crow era to obtain better treatment from white lan ...more
Julien Devin
Feb 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
This book gives a dive into a 'missing' period of US political history -- the politics of rural black southerners between the end of Reconstruction and when the same people move north and start playing a part in northern politics. This period is often referred to as the 'nadir' of race relations -- when repression by white supremacist governments reached its full swing and Jim Crow was imposed, with the fully-capitalist Republican party turning a blind eye. Hahn doesn't object to that descriptio ...more
Jul 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
By far the most extensive history of United States Black Nationalism I've ever read. It's so dense, I'll only rate it second to Sterling Stuckey's Slave Culture because Stuckey is much more readable, but if you want information about Black US political struggles ?This is the go to book. Covering everything from The Black Church to plantation strikes to slave revolts to the Civil War to the Emigrationist Movement to the Exoduster Movement, there is so much valuable information in here that shows ...more
Lucas Miller
Aug 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A long road on this one. My reading has been completely wrecked by this semester. I finished this book solely because it was part of a project for an elective class I was teaching. That being said, what a book.

It has been a long time since I have read a historical monograph this closely and enjoyed one this thoroughly. Hahn's research is deep and wide, his arguments are subtle and graceful. More than anything, however, Hahn treats the subjects of his history with respect and dignity without eve
Ruth Ann
Five stars for content and three stars for writing. The history covered here is extremely important and the author clearly did extensive research. I learned a great deal that I didn't know before. But, this book really suffers for lack of editing. There were hundreds of places where I had to re-read to find the verb, or to remind myself of the beginning of a sentence after a too-lengthy parenthetical statement.

That limits the book's audience to readers who are already committed to the topic, lea
Mary Rose
Full disclosure, I didn't read every single source in here, but it was an absolutely useful book nonetheless. This should not be the first book you read about this topic, but if you've read a general history (or two) of slavery in the US, the Civil War, and reconstruction and want to read primary sources, this is the best book out there for it. It's absolutely great for reference, especially if the book or article you are reading skims over the voices of black people during this period. ...more
Dec 04, 2012 rated it liked it
Craploads of information, decently readable, would be excellent for research or background information on black politics in the rural south 1830-1900. That said, it's long and gets quite tedious, and it can be quite repetitive at times.

The research is brilliant and thorough, it's certainly an accomplished work, but reading it is not particularly enjoyable.
Dec 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
I read this for one of my college courses and it is a surprisingly good read! The author, Steven Hahn, paints a very vivid picture of what life was like for blacks following the Civil War. If you are a history buff then you will enjoy this book! American History is not my favorite thing, I'm a Russian History specialist, but I did enjoy this novel. ...more
Lawrence N.
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A magisterial history of African American politics during the revolutionary upheavals that redefined American citizenship. There's nothing quite like this book in the vast literature of slavery and freedom. The research is certainly brilliant, the writing superb. But the insights are what set it apart. "A Nation Under Our Feet" is a synthesis destined for a long shelf life. ...more
Femi Kush
Sep 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
After reading this book, the notion of laid back African Americans who are perpetually waiting for others to help them becomes untenable. Even in slavery they were players albeit subtle ones and immediately the institution of slavery was abolished they become overtly involve in shaping their own destiny.
May 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
It was a little slow in the middle, but a very interesting history of how black folks worked the system as Ray they could under shitty circumstances. I personally had no idea how much they negotiated "privileges" from their owners pre-emancipation, or
how much political activity there was during repressive times after reconstruction ended. Very interesting, but it took a while to get through.
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Chronicles struggles of Union Leagues, Colored Farmers' Alliance, Black sugarcane workers in the Knights of Labor, and other rural Black political struggles as foundational to the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the history of capitalism, and the history of work and class in the United States. Too many quotes to recommend it--better than Foner, imho. ...more
Nov 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Wow, our LAST book for American history seminar! I still can't believe I read 24 books in 15 weeks. ...more
May 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
actually learned a lot in this one. it's all like kapow why dem blacks be up north? CAUSE THE SOUTH A SHIT HOLE, SON ...more
Great study of Reconstruction from the perspective of former slaves and their descendants.
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Hahn is an excellent historian
May 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Important read. Well written.
John P. Davidson
Nov 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An excellent chronology of African Americans in this country, from slavery to today. Comprehensive and very well written.
Rob Bauer
Jun 02, 2019 rated it liked it
The Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow South. Each of these terms describes a distinct period in Southern history, a period that scholars have used reams of paper to describe and document. Steven Hahn, however, chooses a different approach in his book A Nation Under Our Feet. For Hahn, this entire period from the end of the Civil War to the Great Migration of blacks out of the South is one of continuous struggle by the freedmen in an active effort to shape their political world. In this ...more
Cailin Hong
Unnecessary for me to offer my validation to another Pulitzer winner but I liked this.

It's interesting to me that this book is discussed as the "black people freed themselves" text. Not how I read it at all - more so, that out of slavery arose repertoires of political participation that explains how black American political consciousness is different from the "mainstream," American, liberal Tocqueville narrative. As I understand it, Hahn argues that from slavery through the civil rights movement
Jeremy Canipe
Steven Hahn's book offers a detailed interpretation of African Americans sought to influence and participate in politics from the days of enslavement though the Great Migration of the 1910s, when very large numbers of African Americans moved from the rural reaches of the Deep South to the urban centers of the northern and midwestern states.

Hahn is a Professor of American History at New York University. Rightly recognized as a crucial volume, this book received the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft P
Susan Webb
Nov 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Reading the author's description of the destruction of Reconstruction led by rich white landowners, in particular the attack on the enfranchisement of African Americans, through terror, armed militias, gerrymandering, vote suppression and so on, gives such stark parallels with today's Republican attacks on voting, given new venom by Trump and his enablers. The tactics are exactly the same. But beyond that this is a very important book in tracing the deep roots of the civil rights movement of the ...more
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Steven Hahn is the Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor in American History at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Happy Women's History Month! One of the undisputedly good things about modern scholarship is that women’s history is finally getting its due....
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