From one of our most distinguished historians, a new examination of the vitally important years of Emancipation and Reconstruction during and immediately following the Civil War–a necessary reconsideration that emphasizes the era’s political and cultural meaning for today’s America.
In Forever Free, Eric Foner overturns numerous assumptions growing out of the traditional understanding of the period, which is based almost exclusively on white sources and shaped by (often unconscious) racism. He presents the period as a time of determination, especially on the part of recently emancipated black Americans, to put into effect the principles of equal rights and citizenship for all.
Drawing on a wide range of long-neglected documents, he places a new emphasis on the centrality of the black experience to an understanding of the era. We see African Americans as active agents in overthrowing slavery, in helping win the Civil War, and–even more actively–in shaping Reconstruction and creating a legacy long obscured and misunderstood. Foner makes clear how, by war’s end, freed slaves in the South built on networks of church and family in order to exercise their right of suffrage as well as gain access to education, land, and employment.
He shows us that the birth of the Ku Klux Klan and renewed acts of racial violence were retaliation for the progress made by blacks soon after the war. He refutes lingering misconceptions about Reconstruction, including the attribution of its ills to corrupt African American politicians and “carpetbaggers,” and connects it to the movements for civil rights and racial justice.
Joshua Brown’s illustrated commentary on the era’s graphic art and photographs complements the narrative. He offers a unique portrait of how Americans envisioned their world and time.
Forever Free is an essential contribution to our understanding of the events that fundamentally reshaped American life after the Civil War–a persuasive reading of history that transforms our sense of the era from a time of failure and despair to a threshold of hope and achievement.
Eric Foner, a winner of the Bancroft Prize and the Francis Parkman Prize, is the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His books include The Story of American Freedom and Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War. He lives in New York City.
Joshua Brown is the executive director of the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His books include Beyond the Lines: Pictorial Reporting, Everyday Life, and the Crisis of Gilded Age America. He lives in New York City.
This book is the first effort of the Los Angeles-based Forever Free Project, an ongoing collaboration among film and television producers and writers and our most distinguished historians and scholars. The Forever Free Project is preparing a film on Emancipation and Reconstruction.
“A highly readable story of black Americans’ ongoing heroic struggle for freedom . . . Beautifully told.” –The Washington Post Book World“Passionate, lucid, concise without being light. . . . Foner traces the lines of race and politics that run from Reconstruction to the age of segregation to the civil rights movement to our own time.” –The New York Times Book Review“Foner delves deeply into the politics of the time, to be sure, but he spends much more time showing how political decisions affected real people. . . . This book has the potential to become a model for future history books that target a broader audience.” –The Washington Monthly“African Americans emerge as political powerful actors in Forever Free. In [these] vivid pages . . . we become acquainted with these extraordinary people, some well-known, some virtually unknown.” –The New Republic