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African American History Forum

The Crucible of Reconstruction

The Crucible of Reconstruction
How slavery, the Civil War and emancipation shaped life in Savannah.

By Jacqueline Jones

Knopf. 510 pp. $30

"Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and others lived during the Reconstruction period," the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar once observed. He might have been describing Jacqueline Jones's account of 19th-century Savannah, Ga., where men and women both famous and obscure transformed a resilient Southern city in the years surrounding the Civil War.

Jones introduces the voices of numerous slaves, citizens and soldiers as she explores a trove of original sources to create a people's history of emancipation and the vast social changes it wrought. The author, a former winner of the Bancroft Prize, must work at times to stage-manage so wide a range of personages. But grounding her effort is the book's real character -- the city of Savannah itself, a lush, semi-tropical port town known for its mix of slaves, free blacks, plantation gentry and Irish immigrants; its seasonal malarial outbreaks; its splendid mansions and gardens; a waterfront humming with the loading of rice and cotton; and distressing extremes of wealth and poverty.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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