University of Florida Press (2018), $29,95
The chaotic years after the Civil War are often seen as a time of uniquely American idealism—a revolutionary attempt to rebuild the nation that paved the way for the civil rights movement of the twentieth century. But Adam Fairclough rejects this prevailing view, challenging prominent historians such as Eric Foner and James McPherson. He argues that Reconstruction was, quite simply, a disaster and that the civil rights movement triumphed despite it, not because of it.
Fairclough takes readers to Natchitoches, Louisiana, a majority-black parish deep in the cotton South. Home to a vibrant Republican Party led by former slaves, ex-Confederates, and free people of color, the parish was a bastion of Republican power and the ideal place for Reconstruction to have worked. Yet although it didn’t experience the extremes of violence that afflicted the surrounding region, Natchitoches fell prey to Democratic intimidation. Its Republican leaders were eventually driven out of the parish.
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