Reconstructing Democracy
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Reconstructing Democracy

Grassroots Black Politics in the Deep South after the Civil War

Title Details

Pages: 376

Illustrations: 7 b&w photos

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 04/15/2017

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5142-1

List Price: $34.95


Pub Date: 01/15/2015

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4033-3

List Price: $62.95


Pub Date: 01/15/2015

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4785-1

List Price: $62.95

Reconstructing Democracy

Grassroots Black Politics in the Deep South after the Civil War

How politically engaged freedpeople shaped a new system of governance in the South

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Former slaves, with no prior experience in electoral politics and with few economic resources or little significant social standing, created a sweeping political movement that transformed the South after the Civil War. Within a few short years after emancipation, not only were black men voting but they had elected thousands of ex-slaves to political offices. Historians have long noted the role of African American slaves in the fight for their emancipation and their many efforts to secure their freedom and citizenship, yet they have given surprisingly little attention to the system of governance that freedpeople helped to fashion. Justin Behrend argues that freedpeople created a new democracy in the Reconstruction era, replacing the oligarchic rule of slaveholders and Confederates with a grassroots democracy.

Reconstructing Democracy tells this story through the experiences of ordinary people who lived in the Natchez District, a region of the Deep South where black political mobilization was very successful. Behrend shows how freedpeople set up a political system rooted in egalitarian values wherein local communities rather than powerful individuals held power and ordinary people exercised unprecedented influence in governance. In so doing, he invites us to reconsider not only our understanding of Reconstruction but also the nature and origins of democracy more broadly.

Behrend’s exploration of the coherence, no less than the contradictions, of popular mobilization is memorable. Here is a book for scholar and activist alike.

—Julie Saville, American Historical Review

Reconstructing Democracy deepens, elaborates and adds to a broader debate over Reconstruction, with careful argument and the patient accrual of evidence. In the meticulous work found on every page—and in the abiding devotion of the author to the idea that common people have a political history—Behrend’s work is the perfect place for scholars to begin the work of re-imagining the history of America’s most tortured historical moment.

—Erik Mathisen, Reviews in History

Behrend’s contribution has been to enrich this familiar narrative and to bring to it fresh insights and observations; that is no small accomplishment. Indeed, this excellent study rests on such an extraordinary amount of primary-source research, so effectively incorporates the vast secondary literature on various aspects of the topic, and tells an important story so eloquently that it stands as a first-rate piece of scholarship even without this unnecessary claim.

—John C. Rodrigue, Journal of American History


McLemore Prize, Mississippi Historical Society

About the Author/Editor

JUSTIN BEHREND is an assistant professor of history at the State University of New York at Geneseo.