Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I

Article excerpt

They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I. By Kidada E. Williams. (New York and London: New York University Press, 2012. Pp. xii, 281. Paper, $25.00, ISBN 978-0-8147-9536-1; cloth, $79.00, ISBN 978-0 8147-9535-4.)

They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I is a welcome addition to the growing literature on racial violence in the United States during the years immediately following emancipation through World War I. Meticulously researched and written by Kidada E. Williams, this important work examines racial violence through the words of victims and witnesses, creating what Edward E. Baptist has called '"vernacular history,'" which is long overdue in the historiography of this period (p. 8). Through the act of testifying in various capacities--to federal officials, in newspapers, and in pamphlets--African Americans not only actively participated in claiming their rights as citizens but also forged a sense of black communal identity through their shared experiences.

Williams begins with an examination of the violent atmosphere of Reconstruction and the response of freedpeople to their vulnerable situation. Rather than strictly analyzing perpetrators' crimes, as do most violence scholars of the period, Williams highlights the idea that newly emancipated blacks had a keen awareness of the meaning of freedom and responded, both individually and communally, to threats of violence. They understood all too well that to defend oneself in such a turbulent and uncertain period risked even more retaliation. Yet, in reporting crimes perpetrated against themselves or community members, freedpeople formally resisted their mistreatment by whites and at the same time created a counternarrative that defined racist whites as acting virulently against black freedom in any form. …

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