John Derbyshire asked recently if readers had suggestions about books to read about the South, slavery and Reconstruction.
In a column on Memorial Day, I wrote that
That North and South were fighting external enemies together was part of the Great Reconciliation that is described in Paul H. Buck`s 1937 book, The Road To Reunion 1865-1900, which you can download for free from Archive.org. (This book is now unpopular—and so is the actual post-Civil War reconciliation.)
Let me give you some idea of what I meant by "unpopular." This is from the free preview of an article called Recovered Memory of the Civil War, by Michael Vorenberg, Reviews in American History,December 2001.You can read the whole thing if you have University access, but this makes the basic points:
In his stirring, sorrowful conclusion to Black Reconstruction in America of 1935, W.E.B. Du Bois denounced the "propaganda of history" of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that dehumanized black Americans in an effort to reunite a country divided by the Civil War.
"In propaganda against the Negro since emancipation in this land," Du Bois lamented, "we face one of the most stupendous efforts the world ever saw to discredit human beings, an effort involving universities, history, science, social life and religion."
What must Du Bois have felt only two years after the publication of his book when Paul H. Buck, a historian at Du Bois`s alma mater of Harvard, published The Road to Reunion? That volume praised the "speedy reconciliation" between North and South;" declared that "a union of sentiment based upon integrated interests had become a fact"; accepted the supposed inferiority of black Americans as a source of an insoluble "race problem"; and commended Americans, North and South, for putting the race issue aside in their admirable quest for national reconciliation.
Buck`s book won the Pulitzer Prize. Du Bois`s book, though well received, would not get its rightful due from historians for another generation. For the past thirty years or so, toilers in the field of Reconstruction, most notable among them Eric Foner, have helped raise Du Bois to the historians` pantheon while laying Buck and his kind to ground. Now, with the publication of David W. Blight`s Race and Reunion, which makes contest rather than consensus the theme of Civil War memory, and puts race back at the center of the story of reunion, we can close the grave for good on Buck. [Emphases added.]
Well, I suppose we can close the grave on Buck (R.I.P Paul Herman Buck, 1899 – 1978) but not, I hope R.I.P the South or R.I.P America.