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

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

Synopsis

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. At the same time, Hahn asks us to think in more expansive ways about the nature and boundaries of politics and political practice.

Emphasizing the importance of kinship, labor, and networks of communication, A Nation under Our Feet explores the political relations and sensibilities that developed under slavery and shows how they set the stage for grassroots mobilization. Hahn introduces us to local leaders, and shows how political communities were built, defended, and rebuilt. 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. He offers a new framework--looking out from slavery--to understand twentieth-century forms of black political consciousness as well as emerging battles for civil rights. It is a powerful story, told here for the first time, and one that presents both an inspiring and a troubling perspective on American democracy.

Excerpt

This is a book about extraordinary people who did extraordinary things under the most difficult of circumstances and, in the process, transformed themselves and the world in which they lived. It is about how African Americans in the rural South conducted politics and engaged in political struggle as slaves and as freedpeople, about how they constituted themselves as political actors in a society that tried to refuse them that part, and thus about how they gave powerful direction to America's revolutionary experience of disunion, emancipation, and nation-building. It is a book about how political relations and aspirations were forged at the grassroots, about how they took collective and institutional form, and about how they pressed on different arenas of social and political life. It is about the making and remaking of a distinctive African-American politics during the second half of the nineteenth century, and about the origins of popular black nationalism and the civil rights movement in the twentieth. And it is a book about the inspiring and dispiriting history of American democracy.

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