How to Understand the Struggle for Black Freedom After Emancipation

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“My visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture served as a professional and personal high point,” says Erica Armstrong Dunbar, a professor of history at the University of Delaware, who discusses the museum in this issue. Here, Dunbar recommends five books about the brutal struggle that black Americans faced in the epochal transition from slavery to freedom.

America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877

by Eric Foner

Harper & Row, 1988
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Now a classic text, Reconstruction examines the period that followed the Civil War. Foner recounts, in stunning detail, the triumph and tragedy of a nation that attempted to rebuild a democratic republic in the shadow of slavery and after years of violent conflict. The book’s major concerns—citizenship, civil rights, and the legacy of racism—remain hotly contested to this day.

Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors After the Civil War

by Tera W. Hunter

Harvard University Press,
1998Buy this book

After the Civil War, black men and women created their lives anew as free people, often taking to the open road in the attempt to distance themselves from their memories of slavery and the cotton fields. Hunter offers a compelling narrative about the lives of black women in the urban South who refused to buckle under the challenges of black codes, racial violence, and the rise of Jim Crow. To ’Joy My Freedom chronicles the experiences of the women who worked to rebuild families, earn an income, and find ways to live and love in turbulent times.

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