Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest
University of North Carolina Press 2009
You’ve heard of “Reconstruction,” that is, the reform of the South after the Civil War. But have you heard of “Northern Reconstruction?” Probably not. I hadn’t either until I read Leslie Schwalm’s superb new book Emancipation’s Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest (University of North Carolina Press, 2009). We tend to think of the Civil War as a Northern fight against Southern slavery. It was that to some extent. But, in our rush to congratulate ourselves on liberating those in Southern bondage, we tend to overlook the fact that blacks living in the North were treated none too well by the majority white residents. Being anti-slavery didn’t mean being pro-African American. In this meticulously researched book, Leslie traces the history of the African American migration to the Upper Midwest (Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota) during and after the war. It’s not a very pretty picture. The whites in the area were not at all receptive to the idea that emancipated slaves would live among them. White Midwesterners had deprived African Americans of their civil rights before the war and they had every intention of doing the same after the war. They were hostile to the emancipated migrants and did everything they could to see that they were kept “in their place.” That’s why even the North had to be “reconstructed.” Read this book. It will change what you think, and that can’t be said for every history.
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