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.

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, migration.Hahn 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.

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

Steven Hahns 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. 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 more independent communities in Kansas or Liberia demonstrates a powerful non-integrationist trend in black political history in this period. Hahn discusses both the more well-known struggle against white supremacy and the less examined conflicts within the black community, including tensions between rural and urban activists. Hahns 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.

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.

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.

How Southern Blacks Empowered Themselves Steven 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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 more commonly set in the 1970s than the 1870s, such as Matthew Countrymans Up South; the class divisions within the Black community between the radical poor and the more stayed integrationist elite leadership, and the ultimately illusory character of lasting interracial alliances with white liberals, loom large in his account of Reconstruction.

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.

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.

It's so dense, I'll only rate it second to Sterling Stuckey's Slave Culture because Stuckey is much more readable, but if you want information about Black US political struggles ?This is the go to book.

This book is required reading.

  • English

  • History

  • Rating: 4.08
  • Pages: 624
  • Publish Date: April 30th 2005 by Belknap Press
  • Isbn10: 067401765X
  • Isbn13: 9780674017658