REQUIEM FOR RECONSTRUCTION: THE SOUTH CAROLINA LOWCOUNTRY AND REPRESENTATIONS OF RACE AND CITIZENSHIP, 1880-1980
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“Requiem for Reconstruction” examines depictions of post-Civil War African American life in the South Carolina Lowcountry and their deployment in the public sphere to represent Reconstruction’s promise and perils. As a period when the United States took its first meaningful steps to challenge white supremacy and construct a color-blind democracy, Reconstruction was first tested and then most thoroughly sustained in the predominantly black counties of the South Carolina Lowcountry. In the century that followed Reconstruction’s collapse, both those Americans committed to racial egalitarianism and those who supported white supremacy regularly returned to the Lowcountry’s post-Civil War past to articulate competing notions of racial progress. “Requiem for Reconstruction” argues that the Lowcountry’s visibility led to a countermemory of Reconstruction that diverged from the narratives of professional historians and provided the foundation for a vision of black citizenship that informed twentieth-century debates over black landownership, cultural appropriation, and civil rights.
In exploring how non-historians interpreted and utilized the past, “Requiem for Reconstruction” intervenes in the fields of American memory and African American cultural history. Showing that freedpeople’s Reconstruction-era experiences of landownership and political participation shaped the vocabulary of racial egalitarianism for more than a century, “Requiem for Reconstruction” focuses on a constellation of events, intellectuals, and organizations through which memory of Reconstruction was produced and sustained. By examining the afterlives of nineteenth-century battles over land, labor, African American culture, and black political power, “Requiem for Reconstruction” demonstrates that the Lowcountry’s past remained a touchstone in the struggle against white supremacy in the United States.