Black Reconstruction


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DU BOIS, W.E. Burghardt. Black Reconstruction. An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880. New York: Harcourt, Brace, (1935). Thick octavo, original black cloth, original dust jacket. Housed in a custom clamshell box.

First edition of Du Bois "monumental" epic history that fundamentally altered views of the Reconstruction and helped spark "the long attempt to rescue black history in America," an especially handsome copy in the original dust jacket.

On August 28, 1963 Roy Wilkins addressed the hundreds of thousands assembled in the March on Washington to announce that W.E.B. Du Bois had died. "Wilkins told the suddenly still crowd… 'at the dawn of the 20th century, his was the voice calling you to gather here today in this cause'" (Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois, 2). With Black Reconstruction, the work Du Bois considered his magnum opus, he fundamentally "helped to launch the long attempt to rescue black history in America from what many scholars have called a 'structural amnesia'… Black Reconstruction challenged much more than historiography… the Civil War, black freedom and the Reconstruction of the South, Du Bois seemed to be saying, ought to have been the epic of American democracy" (Fabre, History and Memory, 58-65).

This "monumental" work fundamentally "redefined the terms by which the history of the Reconstruction was analyzed" (Parfait, Rewriting History). Du Bois "set reconstruction historiography upright after finding it standing on its head… the book represented one of those genuine paradigm shifts periodically experienced in a field of knowledge, one that sunders repugnant interpretations into the before-and-after of its sudden disorienting emergence." Ignored on publication by the American Historical Review and with Time dismissing Du Bois as an "ax grinder," the New York Times nevertheless affirmed "that Du Bois was absolutely justified in his rancorous onslaught on American historians of the Civil War period" (Lewis, 366-74).

To Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Black Reconstruction is "a sweeping corrective to contemporary histories of the Reconstruction era, which (white) historians had shaped with the view of blacks as inadequate to the task of capitalizing on the freedom that emancipation had given them, and black history as 'separate, unequal and irrelevant' in the words of Du Bois' Pulitzer prize-winning biographer David Levering Lewis" (Introduction to 2014 edition). In the book's powerful closing, Du Bois calls the "transportation of ten million human beings out of the dark beauty of their mother continent… an upheaval of humanity like the Reformation and the French Revolution."

In February 1968, when Martin Luther King, Jr. honored Du Bois at Carnegie Hall, he "reminded white Americans of the depth of their debt to a man who committed himself to undoing their ignorance of their own history." Within three months King would be assassinated. His tribute to Du Bois reflects "as much about King in his final weeks as they do about the man he came to honor" (Balfour, Democracy's Reconstruction). "First edition" on copyright page. Published June 1935. Blockson 2426.

Book fine; mere trace of dampstaining, faint toning to about-fine price-clipped dust jacket.

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Langston HUGHES   |   Zora Neale HURSTON   |   W. E. B. DU BOIS   |   Alain LOCKE

Author's full list of books

DU BOIS, W. E. B. >