Henry Louis Gates, Jr. presents a journey through America’s past and our nation’s attempts at renewal in this look at the Civil War’s conclusion, Reconstruction, and the rise of Jim Crow segregation.
This is a story about America during and after Reconstruction, one of history’s most pivotal and misunderstood chapters. In a stirring account of emancipation, the struggle for citizenship and national reunion, and the advent of racial segregation, the renowned Harvard scholar delivers a book that is illuminating and timely. Real-life accounts drive the narrative, spanning the half century between the Civil War and Birth of a Nation. Here, you will come face-to-face with the people and events of Reconstruction’s noble democratic experiment, its tragic undermining, and the drawing of a new “color line” in the long Jim Crow era that followed. In introducing young readers to them, and to the resiliency of the African American people at times of progress and betrayal, Professor Gates shares a history that remains vitally relevant today.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Racism, Violence
Booklist (January 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 9))
Grades 7-11. A striking image on the book jacket will draw readers to this richly informative but uneven presentation on the many progressive changes during the Reconstruction era, as well as their later dismantling, which led to a resurgence of intolerance, injustice, and violence against black Americans, particularly in the South. The book is well researched, though densely packed with facts and often written in complex sentences, including many quotes from nineteenth-century documents and later historians. The writers assume that their readers have a fuller knowledge of the period and a larger vocabulary than can be expected of most middle-grade readers. Attempting to clarify a quote from Andrew Johnson, inchoate is defined within the text as embryonic, a word nearly as puzzling to most young readers. Black-and-white reproductions of archival photos, prints, and documents illustrate the text. While the topic is complex and perhaps too broad for one book, it’s also fundamental to understanding the background of racial issues in America. A challenging but worthwhile choice for somewhat older readers.
Kirkus Reviews (November 15, 2018)
“In your hands you are holding my book…my very first venture in writing for young readers,” Gates writes in a preface. And readers can tell…though probably not in the way Gates and co-author Bolden may have aimed for. The book opens with a gripping scene of formerly enslaved African-Americans celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation. It proceeds to engagingly unfold the facts that led to Reconstruction and its reaction, Jim Crow, until it disrupts the flow with oddly placed facts about Gates’ family’s involvement in the war, name-dropping of other historians, and the occasional conspicuous exclamation (“Land! That’s what his people most hungered for”). Flourishes such as that last sit uneasily with the extensive quotations from secondary sources for adults, as if Gates and Bolden are not sure whether their conceptual audience is young readers or adults, an uncertainty established as early as Gates’ preface. They also too-frequently relegate the vital roles of black women, such as Harriet Tubman, to sidebars or scatter their facts throughout the book, implicitly framing the era as a struggle between African-American men and white men. In the end, this acts as a reminder to readers that, although a person may have a Ph.D. and have written successfully in some genres and media, that does not mean they can write in every one, even with the help of a veteran in the field. Well-intentioned, well-researched, but awkwardly written considering the caliber of the scholar and his expected scholarship. (selected sources, endnotes, index) (Nonfiction. 8-12)
About the Author
Henry Louis Gates Jr. is a Professor of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University and Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. He is well-known as a literary critic, an editor of literature, and a proponent of black literature and black cultural studies.
His website is https://aaas.fas.harvard.edu/people/henry-louis-gates-jr
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