A NATION UNDER OUR FEET: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration
Steven Hahn, . . Harvard Univ., $35 (609pp) ISBN 978-0-674-01169-4
In his bold and extensively researched study of the black political traditions emerging out of slavery, Hahn continues the field's ongoing demolition of the myth of the submissive slave cowering before his master and the ignorant freedman passively waiting for his "40 acres and a mule" to fall from the sky. In their place, he offers an occasionally overstated but compelling portrait of rural Southern blacks fighting for political and economic power despite entrenched and often violent obstacles. From clan-based organization on the plantation through Reconstruction-era political party mobilization to the rise in emigrationist sentiment culminating in Garveyism in the 1920s, Hahn describes the serious groundwork that became most visible with the franchise but had formed long before the Civil War. He is at his strongest chronicling the hidden history of slave resistance, emphasizing slaves as agents of change, and spends less time on the extent and dimensions of psychological slavery, the vestiges of which continued well after emancipation. Hahn also minimizes the colonialist impulses behind the formation of Liberia, treating emigrationism as an expression of black resistance. While the book's prose is often congested, the research is formidable, bringing to the fore intricate histories of unknown but significant struggles. Original and deeply informed, the book does an excellent job of rendering those devoted "to the making of a new political nation while they made themselves into a new people."
Reviewed on: 09/22/2003
Paperback - 624 pages - 978-0-674-01765-8