Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow
The abolition of slavery in the aftermath of the American Civil War is a familiar story, as is the civil rights revolution that transformed the nation after World War II. But the century in between remains a mystery: if emancipation sparked ‘a new birth of freedom’ in Lincoln’s America, why was it necessary to march in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s America? Henry Louis Gates, Jr. seeks to answer that question with a close reading of the visual culture of the Reconstruction era. Gates reveals the many faces of Jim Crow and uncovers the roots of structural racism today, while also looking at the many ways in which African Americans forced the rest of the US to recognise their humanity. The story Gates tells begins with great hope, with Union victory, and the liberation of nearly 4 million enslaved African-Americans. Until 1877, the federal government, goaded by the activism of Frederick Douglass and many others, tried to sustain their new rights. But white paramilitary groups in the former Confederacy, combined with a loss of Northern will, restored ‘home rule’ to the South. The retreat from Reconstruction was followed by one of the most violent periods in US history, with thousands of black people murdered or lynched and many more afflicted by the degrading impositions of Jim Crow segregation. An essential tour through one of America’s fundamental historical tragedies, Stony the Road is also a story of heroic resistance, as figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells fought to create a counter-narrative, and culture, inside the lion’s mouth. As sobering as this tale is, it also has within it the inspiration that comes with encountering the hopes our ancestors advanced against the longest odds.