The civil rights revolutions of the 1950s and 1960s transformed the
literature on Reconstruction in America by emphasizing the social
history of emancipation and the hopefulness that reunification
would bring equality. Much of this revisionist work served to
counter and correct the racist and pro-Confederate accounts of
Reconstruction written in the early twentieth century. While there
have been modern scholarly revisions of individual states, most are
decades old, and Michael W. Fitzgerald's Reconstruction in Alabama
is the first comprehensive reinterpretation of that state's history
in over a century. Fitzgerald's work not only revises the existing
troubling histories of the era, it also offers a compelling and
innovative new look at the process of rebuilding Alabama following
the war. Attending to an array of issues largely ignored until now,
Fitzgerald's history begins by analyzing the differences over
slavery, secession, and war that divided Alabama's whites, mostly
along the lines of region and class. He examines the economic and
political implications of defeat, focusing particularly on how
freed slaves and their former masters mediated the postwar
landscape. For a time, he suggests, whites and freedpeople
coexisted mostly peaceably in some parts of the state under the
Reconstruction government, as a recovering cotton economy bathed
the plantation belt in profit. Later, when charting the rise and
fall of the Republican Party, Fitzgerald shows that Alabama's new
Republican government implemented an ambitious program of railroad
subsidy, characterized by substantial corruption that eventually
bankrupted the state and helped end Republican rule. He shows,
however, that the state's freedpeople and their preferred leaders
were not the major players in this arena: they had other issues
that mattered to them far more, like public education, civil
rights, voting rights, and resisting the Klan's terrorist violence.
After Reconstruction ended, Fitzgerald suggests that white
collective memory of the era fixated on black voting, big
government, high taxes, and corruption, all of which buttressed the
Jim Crow order in the state. This misguided understanding of the
past encouraged Alabama's intransigence during the later civil
rights era. Despite the power of faulty interpretations that united
segregationists, Fitzgerald demonstrates that it was class and
regional divisions over economic policy, as much as racial tension,
that shaped the complex reality of Reconstruction in Alabama.
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