Pool: Replenish a year in pounds | Frank pool


I have read a lot of books this year.

I have time to read because of the things I don’t do. I don’t watch TV or follow sports – with the exception of things like the World Series – and I’ve never been a big movie buff.

I do a lot of things besides reading – I work, talk to friends, try to exercise, travel and enjoy my marriage. But I read a lot.

While I like to get away from it all in the alternate reality of a novel occasionally, most of what I read is non-fiction, and most of it is history.

I got into the habit of reading several books on the same historical period. In 2021, I read about Slavery, Abolitionism, Confederation, Emancipation, Reconstruction and Jim Crow. I have read about 4,500 pages on these topics, and there is more to do.

I have read three major works on Reconstruction. The 1907 story of William Archibald Dunning is sympathetic to the white “Redeemer” who wrested power from the freedmen and their white allies. In some places it is blatantly racist, with phrases like “barbarian niggers” used to describe people for whom literacy was prohibited until emancipation.

Yet Dunning presents a clear account of the 1877 compromise that gave Republican Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency in return for abandoning party and federal government support for black emancipation.

WEB Du Bois’s 1935 book “Black Reconstruction in America” ​​attempts to counter Dunning and his followers’ account of mainstream history. Its passionate defense of black Americans is both its strength and its weakness. Du Bois points out that the public school system in the South is a product of the Republican state governments which have been held in power by the black vote and the intervention of federal troops.

Sometimes Marxist historians have something to offer, because class struggles do exist, but Du Bois tries too hard to fit a complex situation into one ideological framework. He qualifies Reconstruction, with approval, as a dictatorship.

He over-quotes political speeches and newspaper editorials, but it gives a good sample of the rhetoric of the time, including some very racist language that shocks us today.

I wonder if contemporary students could even read it without claiming that it hurt them and made them dangerous.

Currently, the most authoritative book on Reconstruction was published in 1988 by Eric Foner. He is sympathetic to radical Republican efforts to remake the South, and by dint of scholarship undermines many of Dunning’s explanations of the failures of Reconstruction.

All parties agree that the governments of the postbellum South were corrupt. The United States government under the Grant administration, unfortunately, was not much better. Foner’s book is far more researched and documented. This is one of those books where reading the notes is as valuable as reading the text.

I have already written a review of Kate Masur’s new book “Until Justice Be Done”, part of which covers the period of reconstruction. It is solid work.

Along with Eric Foner’s story, the most masterful work I have read this year is “Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World The Slaves Made” by Eugene Genovese. It is also a large, well researched book that allows a careful reader to learn which sources to follow.

I have read apologists for slavery, abolitionist essays, and the writings of black writers like Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Frederick Douglass.

I will continue this line of study into the New Year.

Eventually, I’ll take my next project – an evaluation of New York Times Project 1619.

I have cut out.

– Frank Thomas Pool is a retired English writer and teacher in Austin. He grew up on Maple Street in Longview and graduated from Longview High School. His column appears on Tuesday. Contact him at [email protected]


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