Cover image for 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
Hahn, Steven, 1951-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
viii, 610 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E185.2 .H15 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E185.2 .H15 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E185.2 .H15 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

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Author Notes

Steven Hahn is the Roy F. and Jeanette P. Nichols Professor in American History at the University of Pennsylvania.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Hahn examines how disenfranchised African Americans in the rural South exercised grassroots strategies to gain political power--albeit limited--after emancipation until the migration to the North. Hahn asserts that southern rural blacks were much more active and assertive in gaining political rights than is typically portrayed and explores the connection between labor and political rights. Part 1 examines how slaves bargained with masters and overseers for rights from visiting nearby spouses to hiring themselves out. Part 2 focuses on the period of reconstruction and how rural blacks mobilized to take advantage of the franchise and triggered the violent response of whites, giving rise to the Klan. Part 3 explores how rural blacks picked up the pieces of the failed reconstruction and looked to other avenues to gain political strength. Readers interested in the history of the struggle for racial justice will appreciate this new perspective on the period that preceded the modern civil rights movement. --Vanessa Bush Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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." (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Hahn (Univ. of Pennsylvania) examines the development of African American political culture during its formative years in the last half of the 19th century, arguing that African Americans actively shaped their own political identity during this critical time period in an often overlooked comprehensive grassroots movement. The naissance of black political participation actually began years before the 15th Amendment, as centuries of activism and mobilization during slavery provided the foundation for future African American political efforts. The cultural components of kinship, labor, education, and networks of communication allowed former slaves the organization and solidarity needed to achieve political equality and self-governance. Hahn traces these trends chronologically through slavery, Radical Reconstruction, and the migration of Southern blacks to the North in the 1920s. He provides well-researched examinations of biracial political coalitions and the rise of popular black nationalism (Garveyism). The broad scope of this study and Hahn's ability to articulate the complex characteristics of African American political origins and growth supersedes Eric Foner's seminal work (Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, CH, Oct'88) or any other more specialized study on the era. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. B. A. Wineman Virginia Military Institute

Table of Contents

Prologue: Looking Out from Slaveryp. 1
Part I "The Jacobins of the Country"
1 Of Chains and Threadsp. 13
2 "The Choked Voice of a Race at Last Unloosed"p. 62
3 Of Rumors and Revelationsp. 116
Part II To Build a New Jerusalem
4 Reconstructing the Body Politicp. 163
5 "A Society Turned Bottomside Up"p. 216
6 Of Paramilitary Politicsp. 265
Part III The Unvanquished
7 The Education of Henry Adamsp. 317
8 Of Ballots and Biracialismp. 364
9 The Valley and the Shadowsp. 412
Epilogue: "Up, You Mighty Race"p. 465
Appendix Black Leaders Data Setp. 479
Notesp. 481
Acknowledgmentsp. 595
Indexp. 599