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

A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration 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 Expansive Ways About The Nature And Boundaries Of Politics And Political PracticeEmphasizing The Importance Of Kinship, Labor, And Networks Of Communication, A Nation Under Our Feet Explores The Political Relations And Sensibilities That Developed Under Slavery And Shows How They Set The Stage For Grassroots Mobilization Hahn Introduces Us To Local Leaders, And Shows How Political Communities Were Built, Defended, And Rebuilt He Also Identifies The Quest For Self Governance As An Essential Goal Of Black Politics Across The Rural South, From Contests For Local Power During Reconstruction, To Emigrationism, Biracial Electoral Alliances, Social Separatism, And, Eventually, MigrationHahn Suggests That Garveyism And Other Popular Forms Of Black Nationalism Absorbed And Elaborated These Earlier Struggles, Thus Linking The First Generation Of Migrants To The Urban North With Those Who Remained In The South He Offers A New Framework Looking Out From Slavery To Understand Twentieth Century Forms Of Black Political Consciousness As Well As Emerging Battles For Civil Rights It Is A Powerful Story, Told Here For The First Time, And One That Presents Both An Inspiring And A Troubling Perspective On American Democracy

Steven Hahn is the Roy F and Jeannette P Nichols Professor in American History at the University of Pennsylvania.

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  • Paperback
  • 624 pages
  • A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration
  • Steven Hahn
  • English
  • 15 January 2019
  • 9780674017658

10 thoughts on “A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration

  1. says:

    How Southern Blacks Empowered ThemselvesSteven 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 Bancroft Prize and the Merle Curti Prize in Social History.The purpose of Professor Hahn s study is to show how African Americans from their earliest days in the South attempted to organize to take control of their own destiny The book challenges the view of many historians that African American political activism was predominantly only a reaction to white oppression and to the unwillingness of Southern whites to have African Americans assume a full role in political life.Professor Hahn s book is arranged chronologically in three broad Parts Part I covers African American political activity during the pre Civil War and Civil War period He describes how blacks, even in the condition of slavery, used their position to wrest concessions from the slaveholders, including the right to farm their own plots, to make limited sales of produce, and to visit neighboring plantations He describes the growth of an informational network during these years, an early commitment to education to literacy, and the beginnings of a political organization These early efforts intensified during the Civil War with the advance of Union Armies in the South, the defection of many slaves, and the service of Southern African Americans in the Union Army.The second part of the book covers the complexities of the Reconstruction period from the close of the War through about 1877 This is the heart of Hahn s account, and it has been influenced heavily by Eric Foner, W.E.B DuBois, and John Hope Franklin Professor Hahn shows the strong efforts of many African Americans throughout the South to take control of their destinies and to make active and responsible contributions to the body politic During this period, African Americans had many leaders who had been slaves or free blacks prior to the War and who had acquired literacy and political ability They achieved a degree of success for a time in different parts of the South but their efforts were doomed by Southern Paramilitary movements, such as the Ku Klux Klan, and by the unwillingness of the United States government to stand wholeheartedly behind black civil rights Professor Hahn tells a chilling story of murder and political intimidation which, as did the efforts of the black leadership, had its roots in the years before the Civil War.Part three of the book covers the years following the end of Reconstruction, a period which sometimes is greatly oversimplified Even with the end of Reconstruction, African Americans made efforts to empower themselves by forging alliances with white groups During the first decade or so following Reconstruction, Southern whites were sufficiently divided among themselves to allow African Americans a degree of political leverage and power Also during these years, there was an active black emigrationist movement which encouraged blacks to move to Liberia or to a location outside the South such as Kansas And this movement had some limited success in forcing concessions from economic powers in the South Again, the political structure African Americans created during this time survived the Jim Crow era in the South and contributed directly to the Great Migration to the North of the twentieth Century and, ultimately to the Civil Rights Movement of the mid twentieth century Professor Hahn has interesting and largely sympathetic things to say about Marcus Garvey and his movement in the 1920s for the repatriation of American blacks to Liberia.This study is dense, highly detailed, and thoroughly documented Professor Hahn displays a wealth of learning in the primary literature and in secondary studies The footnote documentation is extensive This book is probably not suitable for the reader coming to this subject matter for the first time The book makes for heavy reading and it presupposes some basic knowledge in the reader about slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the many post reconstruction movements in Southern politics in the different Southern states It seems to me as well that the book owes a considerable debt to C Vann Woodward s study, now over 50 years old, The Origins of the New South 1877 1913 which covers some of the same material on African American political activism Professor Hahn has written an outstanding work of American History, African American History, and Southern History This book will be invaluable to serious students of our Nation s history.Robin Friedman

  2. says:

    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 Republicans, Freedman s Bureau educators and Northern philanthropists to take control of their own destiny they eagerly sought out education, literature and religious connections that enabled them to overcome the ossified racism of Southern states Nonetheless, even with the emergence of a generation of remarkable individuals Mississippi activist John Roy Lynch, politicians Hiram Revels and Blanche K Bruce, writers Ida Wells and Booker T Washington their success was largely contingent on events outside their control The withdrawal of Federal support and the renascence of white supremacy resulted in a violent overthrow of the New Order Not that this ended anything even after Reconstruction s end, black Americans found new to assert themselves, whether in immigrating abroad, forging self sufficient communities both urban and rural or forging biracial coalitions with Republicans, populists and others to exert their strength Not a happy story and one that ends somewhat arbitrarily in the early 20th Century , but an insightful, well written one it shows that African Americans, even as they were victimized and targeted by institutional racism, never lost agency, drive or willingness to forge ahead.

  3. says:

    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 century than in reframing the nature and salience of black participation in this history In historiographical terms, Hahn takes issue with the liberal integrationist framework of much of the prominent historiography of postwar black political history Hahn says this school of thought, including historians such as Eugene Genovese and Eric Foner, commits two major errors First, it does not treat slaves as political beings and sees their politicization as something largely imposed from the outside by emancipation, the Union Army, the Freedman s Bureau, and the Republican Party Hahn argues in contrast that slave life had always been political, but in order to see this scholars have to accept a flexible view of politics Slaves obviously lacked formal political recognition, but they were political in the sense that they sought to contest and transform the relations of domination under which they lived 52 Slave political activity included building kinship networks against the constant threat of separation, gaining information about broader political events, protecting themselves from violence and exploitation, acquiring time for personal labor, and eventually rebelling against their masters during the Civil War Slaves fought for the basic rights they did not have, and the victories won and kinship networks founded here were foundational for the future political action of freedpeople Hahn s second problem with the dominant historiographical paradigm is that it focuses on liberal integrationist goals such as the pursuit of rights or inclusion in formal politics at the expense of goals such as protonationalism, emigrationism, community development, and self defense As pragmatic political actors, Hahn emphasizes that blacks were willing to pursue many strategies to achieve their goals of rights, dignity, prosperity and community For instance, a huge percentage of southern blacks showed interest in emigrating to the North or to Africa to escape the violence and persecution of the postwar South Although relatively few actually did emigrate in this period due to various obstacles, Hahn duly shows that the consistent and widespread interest in leaving the South and forming independent communities in Kansas or Liberia demonstrates a powerful non integrationist trend in black political history in this period The bulk of this book is about black political struggles in the postwar period Hahn discusses both the well known struggle against white supremacy and the less examined conflicts within the black community, including tensions between rural and urban activists He documents with rich, often biographical detail the remarkable rise of Southern blacks to local and state power and the white political and paramilitary campaign to restore their version of racial order, disenfranchise blacks, and exclude them from formal politics Blacks built a variety of political and social structures to pursue their political goals, including organizations like Union Leagues, the Colored Farmers Alliance, chapters of the Republican Party, and emigrationist organizations Equally important for grassroots activism were local structures such as schools, churches, labor unions, self defense groups, and local newspapers Ultimately, Hahn succeeds in recovering the importance of black political action shaping their own history and the broader history of the post bellum American South Two moderate criticisms are in order for Hahn s book First, the book purports to be about rural black politics, but a great deal of it focuses on urban blacks and or intermediaries between these communities, such as politicians and activists There seems to be no compelling reason to draw this line between rural and urban histories A concerted attempt to integrate rural and urban politics would have yielded a complete account of black politics in this period Second, acolytes of the traditional historiography of postwar black history could legitimately contend that Hahn has not really challenged the standard trajectory of Southern political history There was still a relatively brief flowering of the possibility of black empowerment that declined in the face of white violence and political exclusion, inconsistent support and eventual abandonment from the federal government, and the failures of biracial politics However, the value of Hahn s study is that he shows the crucial impact of black political action in shaping this period, regardless of the end point now known to historians but then unknown to all actors Hahn s most important point in this regard for all American historians is his idea that a large number black activists in this period put forth a multi racial and democratic vision of the nation in which birth and loyalty determined rights and citizenship rather than race Because African Americans put forth this remarkably modern view of America so much earlier than most other political groups, American historians and Americans in general need to fundamentally reexamine the questions of who built and defined this nation Hahn does both groups a great service in pointing them in this direction.

  4. says:

    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 large portions in which black political power was extremely limited, provides a strong unifying framework through which to assess the quickly changing balance of power in the fight over black Americans access to the political system over this period which spans what are often thought of as three distinct eras slavery, reconstruction, and Jim Crow with their own methods for thinking about race and power My main issue with the book is that it doesn t find a natural stopping point The erosion of reconstruction and establishment of the new racial order in the two decades surrounding the turn of the century does not have an obvious event to close out the period, and the book s commitment to analyzing the different shapes taken on by black political activity even under conditions of extreme disempowerment means that this new stasis in the official order ought open many areas of inquiry into the range of dynamic responses during this period, making it truly impossible to fade out on the tragedy of the New Sout

  5. says:

    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 Marcus G are comprehensible and laudable after reading this book So is Ned Cobb and the connections between the labor movement and efforts to achieve interracial democracy Attacks on unions are attacks on civil rights.

  6. says:

    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.

  7. says:

    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 destinies by farming small plots of their own and selling their own production Those early efforts developed into something during the Civil War, when a large number of African Americans served in the Union Army.The second part of the book covers the Reconstruction period Here, the author profoundly the describes the freedmen s strong pursuit of literacy, political activity and leadership What impressed me is that A Nation Under Our Feet is the first book I ve read that depicts the reconstruction of the white supremacy in the South through the constants and unswerving efforts of the Afro Americans to oppose it For example, the book focuses on the resistance of the freedmen to the Ku Klux Klan than on the Ku Klux Klan outrages Here, the author demonstrates the freedmen s longtime strife for organization and unity, which are finally achieved during this period, but also emphasizes that the government didn t support the Afro Americans wholeheartedly.After the Reconstruction, Hahn traces the Afro American emigration to the Northern States, which had largely contributed and influenced the 20th century Civil Rights movement The emigration makes the South vulnerable In general, the book is highly inspiring, well written and insightful.I would definitely recommend it to any US History student, who, however, has some background knowledge on the subject.

  8. says:

    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 and assimilation, the pursuit of individual rights while presenting other sets of aspirations separatism and community development, the pursuit of collective rights, protonationalism as the response to failures and defeats While the revisionist school synthesized by Foner had as one of its primary missions the recovery of the historical agency of African Americans, the assumption of functioning interracial democracy as the penultimate goal, and the lament for the lost chances of progressive political movement following the consolidation of a reactionary South, tended make the choices of white liberal allies the most crucial turning points Hahn instead pursues the themes common among writers inclined toward the Black Power movement and commonly set in the 1970s than the 1870s, such as Matthew Countryman s Up South the class divisions within the Black community between the radical poor and the stayed integrationist elite leadership, and the ultimately illusory character of lasting interracial alliances with white liberals, loom large in his account of Reconstruction His pessimistic account of the prospects for interracial collaboration within the Populist Movement is a welcome respite from the romance and moonlight which have so often surrounded that theme since Woodward s elaboration of it in his biography of Tom Watson Hahn s notable contributions to the field come from his broadening of the temporal frame however In searching for the roots of the vibrant political culture which sprang so forcefully into the open following emancipation he traces the furtive solidarities and rumor networks that shaped the political world of slaves Following Redemption he details the renewal of interest in emigration either internally in the case of the Exoduster effort to establish black townships in Kansas or in the revival of petitions for relocation to Liberia Tracing the inward turn of Black communities toward self support through Booker T Washington s call for pragmatic uplift, Hahn attempts to connect both the Great Migration and Marcus Garvey s Universal Negro Improvement Association to late 19th century precursors, although his evidence is suggestive than definitive.

  9. says:

    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 landowners Hahn s ultimate thesis is that the political networks which began under slavery combined with the ideas and demographic patterns of black emigration to produce after 1900 a modern black political consciousness and the Great Migration While the transition from earlier patterns of black relocation to the Great Migration itself is not covered in much depth, Hahn largely succeeds in showing continuities and escalations of black political culture over the course of the nineteenth century Very insightful reading, this book would make a fine companion to Battle Cry of Freedom, Reconstruction, and other classic works of nineteenth century American history The one place where the book is dated now is where Hahn describes how slaves were sometimes paid on Sundays Edward Baptist s 2014 book, The Half Has Never Been Told, showed that in fact almost no slaves were paid.

  10. says:

    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 description, but he investigates the still vibrant black politics of the period to show the descent was not uncontested and attempts to restore the agency of those fighting it This is covered in the third part of the book the first two parts cover black politics during slavery and the Civil war, and the black politics of Reconstruction The book as a whole does a good job of centering the forgotten players of this part of history rural black farmworkers who organized and went out to vote and to free themselves Hahn makes the argument that the networks and methods developed during the 50 years he covers laid the ground for the civil rights movements of the 20th century On the day after black voters organized and turned out en masse in rural areas in Alabama to win a senate race, that s a powerful thought.

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