Book Reviews -- Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction by Eric Foner
Abbott, Richard H., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Eric Foner, the author of the magisterial Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, has once again put those who study the history of the United States in his debt. Freedom's Lawmakers provides insights not only into Reconstruction, but into African-American history and American political history as well. The book is a remarkable achievement. To produce it, Foner has used the work of a great many historians laboring in the field, but the volume also reflects his own familiarity with the primary sources. He has made especially productive use of the 1870 census. As a result of his labors, we now have a comprehensive directory of 1,465 black officeholders who served at all levels of government during the Reconstruction years. This number represents at least 75 percent of the 2,000 blacks that Foner estimates held public office at that time. One of the most important contributions of this volume, consequently, is to draw our attention to hundreds of blacks, many of them surely unknown even to specialists, who held positions in local government. As a result, as Foner observes, "the book sheds new light on black participation in public affairs after the Civil War, dispels myths about the era that still persist, and makes possible more reliable generalizations about black officials' backgrounds, occupations, and other attributes than has hitherto been possible" (p. xii).
The entries vary in length; many are only a few sentences long. Wherever possible, Foner has provided basic information about date of birth, place of habitation, prewar status, occupation, literacy, property holdings, and role in Reconstruction politics. He has also included more than one hundred illustrations. To facilitate the use of the volume by other researchers, Foner has provided a bibliography for every entry and a series of indexes that group names by state, occupation, office held, birth status, and topic (such as service in the United States armed forces or Freedmen's Bureau and access to higher education). …