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Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880

4.45  ·  Rating details ·  2,255 ratings  ·  131 reviews
The pioneering work in the study of the role of Black Americans during Reconstruction by the most influential Black intellectual of his time.
Paperback, 746 pages
Published December 1st 1999 by Free Press (first published 1935)
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Jan 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the book that made me realize how we in the US failed both Blacks and our democracy (by undermining equality) when we let Reconstruction fail so miserably after the Civil War.
Nov 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
This summer I read Henry Louis Gates’s book Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow. It was really good but after I finished it I still wanted to learn more about Reconstruction. Gates in his book mentioned that the two books that shaped his views on the Reconstruction period were W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America and Rayford Logan’s The Betrayal of the Negro. I decided to buy both and started with the oldest book published in 1935.

Du Bois publish
Jan 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A truly extraordinary work. Beautifully written, cogently and convincingly argued. Passionate and powerful and vital. Read it.

"Some Americans think and say that the nation freed the black slave and gave him a vote and that, unable to use it intelligently, he lost it. That is not so. To win the war America freed the slave and armed him; and the threat to arm the mass of the black workers of the Confederacy stopped the war. Nor does this fact for a moment deny that some prophets and martyrs deman
Wow. I just finished the audiobook & am now waiting for my physical copy to arrive so that I can reread & annotate, if that tells you anything about how I feel about this book. I am honestly floored by the combination of the beautiful prose, the strong historiographical critique, and the core moral voice that shines through on every page, and I'm truly angry that this was not a book required for me to encounter at some point in my education. This is the book that should be foundational to how th ...more
B. P. Rinehart
So Goodreads finally went ahead and erased the review during one of their wild site updates, but I managed to copy the whole thing to my blog before they had the chance. So if you want to see the review that at lease 31 people managed to enjoy before it was erased because of length, go here: ...more
Mar 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I've read lots of parts of this book--especially in the research for my book, but I just finally read it start to finish and it was just really depressing. I think DuBois is one of America's greatest writers and thinkers. Note: not, "best *black* writer." No caveats. He called out the Reconstruction myth before the modern revisionists. He studies and tracked and called out racism and capitalism. All of our race vs. class flights that we think we just invented, he already discussed that. DuBois f ...more
Jul 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anti-racist folks, history fans
Wow. This book is monumental. It took me weeks to read it, and it was completely worth it. Du Bois provides an exhaustively detailed account of the Reconstruction years, delves into the foundations of public education, and, with solid economic/Marxist analysis, thoroughly repudiates the previously published work on the period. In my provincial middle and high school education, the Reconstruction period got nary a mention, and this book more than makes up for that. I was very glad for the interne ...more
It would not have been American, however, not to have maintained some color discrimination, however petty.

Broken limbs, broken heads, the mangling of bodies, all prove that it was a contest between enraged men: on the one side from hatred to a race; and on the other, desire for self-preservation, revenge for past grievances and the inhuman murder of their comrades.

How extraordinary, and what a tribute to ignorance and religious hypocrisy, is the fact that in the minds of most people, even tho
Aug 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
DuBois' massive Black Reconstruction is a challenging read, but well worth the effort and time.

Before this book, mainstream American history portrayed Black slaves as passive recipients of the gift of freedom, and blamed them for the failure of the Reconstruction governments.

DuBois turned this analysis around, and showed how four million Black people won their own freedom, won the right to vote, and started to build a real American democracy in the wake of the Civil War before Southern and Nort
David Bates
May 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In 1929 the editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica requested that W.E.B. Du Bois draft an article on the subject of southern Reconstruction following the American Civil War for the forthcoming edition. In a passage challenging the interpretation of reconstruction governments which had become dominant in the United States over the course of the previous generation, Du Bois insisted that “it was Negro loyalty and the Negro vote alone that restored the South to the Union; established the new democr ...more
Jun 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I bought this about a year ago but had been daunted by the sheer size of it. Now I regret not diving in right away, as it truly is one of the most staggeringly impressive works of scholarship I have ever read: a fast-paced historical narrative brought to life both by Du Bois’s fiery and expressive prose together with his impeccable selection of historical records. I read it breathlessly, totally mesmerized by the details of a period of great potential and equally great tragedy that defined the l ...more
Jan 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historiography
Basic elements of the story of America's civil war will be familiar to many who have grown up in this country. Yet, as W.E.B. DuBois shows in the final chapter of this book, there are myths and propaganda that can occlude understanding. This book demystifies by filling in the spaces outside of the physical battlefields with an exhaustive mass of data. It is well-organized; with each chapter beginning with a summary and ending with a song or a poem.

Others reviewers stress economic elements of DuB
Dec 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
When I was in graduate school, I noted somewhat facetiously in a seminar that modern historians of African-American history and Reconstruction were all writing books that essentially said, "DuBois was right about this too...." I was reminded of the revolutionary nature of this book when I decided to set aside time over winter break to read the book. As I read through DuBois' tome, I couldn't help but see ideas that would later be fleshed out and developed by modern historians like Eric Foner and ...more
Bayliss Camp
Aug 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I decided to read this book after attending a community book forum on Ta-Nehisi Coates's _Between the World and Me_. This was one of the books recommended for further reading.

I should also confess I read it in part because my high school US history teacher -- a man otherwise quite good at what he did -- chose to skip over this part of America's story. That's right: we covered the Civil War and then went straight to the Panama Canal, as if nothing of interest happened in between. Reading this bo
Jillian (please spell it with an E)
May 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who can read 700+ pages of academic writing
Recommended to Jillian (please spell it with an E) by: I saw it mentioned in Darden Asbury Pyron's Southern Daughter
➳ Super dense to read, & worth every page. Takes a while to get used to the academic writing, but this is HISTORICAL. Try beginning your read with the last essay.

This book tells the story of post-American Civil War Reconstruction through the eyes of the newly freed African Americans. It was written by an intellectual, writer and activist — and one of the original founders of the NAACP. W.E.B. Du Bois taught at Atlanta University {founded in 1865, now called Clark Atlanta University} here in Atla
Feb 08, 2008 added it
How many realize that the Union won the Civil War because, quite against its own will, it turned into a successful armed slave insurrection? And that, for a brief generation, the rewards won by this conquest of power actually made the U.S. resemble its egalitarian rhetoric, far more than it ever has since? Unbelievably powerful.
The way historians looked at the Reconstruction period after the U.S. Civil War saw a sea change over the course of the twentieth century. From being seen – and taught to children – as a minor period in American history, a blemish soon erased, things started shifting more and more until today, Reconstruction is broadly understood as one of the pivots of American history (though given how much politics there is around pre-collegiate history teaching, one wonders how broad the understanding really ...more
Sep 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is such an important title to read. Many resources cover the Reconstruction period and what it meant for Black Americans but for me, few that I've read compare to this. I experienced fury right alongside satisfaction while reading Mr. DuBois’ work. Fury, as I learned virtually none of this during my school years. Satisfaction, as I held the work in my hands, turned its pages, nourished my mind. As I said, an important title to read. ...more
Phenomenal. W.E.B. DuBois crafts a masterful and comprehensive narrative of the politics of the Reconstruction period. Beginning with a prelude about slavery, he plunges first into the role of the slaves in the Civil War against the context of a North that was unclear and uncoordinated on its purposes in the war. His notion of the slaves as having conducted a "general strike" as well as his detailed exploration of the symbolic and material impact of black soldiers in the Union profoundly shape h ...more
Apr 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This was one of the most fascinating and surprising books on American history I've ever read. With its comprehensive coverage of a key period in U.S. history, it's no wonder that DuBois account of Reconstruction is a classic, at least among historians and some civil rights leaders. For the crucial lessons it brings from history for today, the book deserves to be much better known.

After reading Eric Foner and others, I already knew that the old story about Reconstruction--that it was a "tragic" p
EJ Daniels
Jan 31, 2016 rated it it was ok
Mr. duBois history of Reconstruction is a fascinating read, although most of the actual historical fact is somewhat dated and duBois' methodology would not pass muster according to the standards of modern scholarship. Nevertheless this text provides a fascinating look at the perception of Reconstruction from the point of view of a black Northern intellectual in the early 20th century.

Anyone interested in black historiography should definitely give it a read, but for those interested in the hist
William Sandles
Sep 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
On twitter, I changed my handle to @EveryAmericanShouldReadBlackReconstructionbyDuBois. This book is another gospel. It explains our past, our present, and, unfortunately our foreseeable future. I could say more, but more and more I'm not feeling comfortable about technology monetizing everything we do without any substantive benefit. (Though social interaction w/ like minded people is always--often--a great benefit). Black people have been monetized in America since 1619. This book explains why ...more
Dec 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Im in a study group that read this chapter per month. It is really an amazingly researched and has exciting language. Makes you understand the civil war and reconstruction as a labor struggle. the sad thing was that this book was almost impossible to find. The entire Brooklyn library system had one missing copy and i couldnt find any book stores that sold it.
Apr 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are interested in Sociology, Criminology or Black History, you must must must read DuBois. DuBois invented Anime theory, do not let your criminology professor lie to you, DuBois never got the respect he deserved because he was 1) an American (which in criminological history, didn't get you far) and 2) Black, which in the mid 1800s didn't get you far. ...more
Sep 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book continues to be relevant in today's political/economic/educational climate. It is, simply put, the truth. His chapters on public schooling and history as propaganda are must-reads for anyone seeking an introduction to educational history in the US. ...more
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Radicals in the United States should study this book with at least the amount of seriousness and attentiveness that we give Marx's Capital ...more
Aug 27, 2020 added it
God, I mean, where to begin? This is obviously a staggering and monumental work, an effort to almost singlehandedly correct a racist academic consensus that had been constructed for over 60 years, a deep and rigorous meditation on the relationship between capitalism and democracy, and a reckoning with the global consequences of the racist ideologies used to defend property, inequality and caste in the United States (spoiler: the main consequence is imperialism).

There are one million things I wou
Jonathan Blanks
Jan 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
The two greatest shortcomings of this book are simultaneously representative of its greatest strengths.

First, the narrative sometimes suffers the dreary recitation of tax and commodity price data, but it speaks to the thoroughness of DuBois’s research that obliterates the still too common shibboleths about the Reconstruction era and particularly its governments.

Second, DuBois cudgels the reader with the Marxist critiques of American capital and it’s effect on American society. While the langua
Jake Sauce
Feb 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
As much theoretical intervention as revisionist history, Black Reconstruction is the best single volume on US history I've read and by far the most complete and convincing work of American Marxist thought. Du Bois analysis of the social forces and productive relationships that shaped the Civil War, Reconstruction and Redemption is somehow an even greater accomplishment than advertised.

Between the end of slavery as general strike, the relationship between the planter aristocracy and white and bl
Shaun Gallagher
Jan 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
An excellent book if you have an interest in the Reconstruction Era. Even if you have no interest, I believe its an important book to American history.

Du Bois reinforces his writing with several primary sources. His breakdown of Reconstruction is extremely detailed. There are parts of the book that are difficult to get through. Not because its difficult to follow but rather accepting that this is our history and the thought process of some men during that time.

I would recommend reading the ph
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In 1868, W.E.B. Du Bois (William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, pronounced 'doo-boyz') was born in Massachusetts. He attended Fisk College in Nashville, then earned his BA in 1890 and his MS in 1891 from Harvard. Du Bois studied at the University of Berlin, then earned his doctorate in history from Harvard in 1894. He taught economics and history at Atlanta University from 1897-1910. The Souls of Black ...more

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“One reads the truer deeper facts of Reconstruction with a great despair. It is at once so simple and human, and yet so futile. There is no villain, no idiot, no saint. There are just men; men who crave ease and power, men who know want and hunger, men who have crawled. They all dream and strive with ecstasy of fear and strain of effort, balked of hope and hate. Yet the rich world is wide enough for all, wants all, needs all. So slight a gesture, a word, might set the strife in order, not with full content, but with growing dawn of fulfillment. Instead roars the crash of hell...” 14 likes
“It was not, then, race and culture calling out of the South in 1876; it was property and privilege, shrieking to its own kind, and privilege and property heard and recognized the voice of its own.” 4 likes
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