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Reconstruction Period Research Forum

Fitzgeralds Response to Dee;s Review
In Response To: Urban Emancipation ()

Michael Fitzgerald's response to Christine Dee's Review of _Urban

Faced with so appreciative an evaluation of _Urban Emancipation_, one might simply thank the kind reviewer and leave it at that. But a few of the points raised deserve comment, and it is difficult for an author to let such an opportunity go by.

I am gratified with Professor Dee's enthusiasm for the second half of the book. Even though African Americans were a clear minority of the
electorate, the evidence of meaningful political participation after
Redemption is strong. At least in Mobile, the evidence supports Woodward's image of a twilight period after Reconstruction in which race relations remained somewhat fluid. Insurgent coalitions with black-backing recurrently won elections, and the lively electoral competition seems to have mitigated racism in the public sphere. African American participation did not end in 1877, and the post-Reconstruction thaw in the public climate makes the later solidification of Jim Crow doubly tragic.

The reviewer found this latter portion of the book most interesting.
Perhaps it is, but readers hopefully will not overlook the Reconstruction chapters. I conceptualized the book as an examination of the social origins of Republican factionalism. Modern scholars of the era, notably Eric Foner and Michael Perman, have commented on the self-destructive infighting that characterized Republican rule. State after state witnessed a stereotyped struggle between "scalawag" moderates and "carpetbag" Radicals for control of the party. Lawrence N. Powell's path-breaking article similarly highlighted the "Politics of Livelihood" among the often-impecunious leaders. For Powell, Republican factionalism was largely a struggle over patronage originating from the top. [1]

However, if one looks at this issue from the viewpoint of the African
American community, the situation takes on an added dimension. Ambitious black activists often split between rival factions led by white politicians.

In Mobile, the divisions between moderates and Radicals strikingly followed the lines of social division within the black community. The moderate faction was led by privileged men, mostly prewar free blacks who had long been resident in the city. These activists were predominantly of mixed ancestry, most obviously the Afro-Creoles who in the Gulf region constituted something of a third racial caste. These leaders cultivated a respectable public image, but over time, their preeminence was challenged by an alternative leadership, men who were more inclined toward direct action tactics. These militants were often recently arrived freedpeople from the countryside. They were also less likely to be of racially mixed background.

In social terms, these leadership issues intersected with the in-migration of destitute rural freedpeople, which gave the contest on the streets much of its popular energy. The broader implication is that the process of emancipation itself propelled the factionalism that bedeviled Reconstruction.

Professor Dee of course is aware of these aspects of the book, but I thought these points deserve some emphasis. Professor Dee is doubtless right that the book could have used some charts to make the analysis of population changes clearer. I'd like to thank her for her thoughtful critique of the book and her generous comments.


[1] Lawrence N. Powell, "The Politics of Livelihood: Carpetbaggers in the Deep South," in J. Morgan Kousser and James M. McPherson, eds., _Region, Race and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward_, (Oxford and New York, 1982), 315-47.

Michael W. Fitzgerald
Department of History
St. Olaf College

Messages In This Thread

Urban Emancipation
Fitzgeralds Response to Dee;s Review

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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