Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts
Denmark Vesey’s Garden
Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy
The New Press 2018
New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Public PolicyNew Books Network May 22, 2018 Matthew Johnson
A book that strikes at the source of the recent flare-ups over Confederate symbols in Charlottesville, New Orleans, and elsewhere, Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts‘ Denmark Vesey’s Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy (The New Press, 2018) reveals the deep roots of these controversies and traces them to the capital of slavery in the United States: Charleston, South Carolina, where almost half of the slaves brought to the U.S. stepped onto our shores, where the first shot at Fort Sumter began the Civil War, and where Dylann Roof murdered nine people at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, which was co-founded by Denmark Vesey, a black revolutionary who plotted a massive slave insurrection in 1822.
As early as 1865, former slaveholders and their descendants began working to construct a romanticized memory of the antebellum South. In contrast, former slaves, their descendants, and some white allies have worked to preserve an honest, unvarnished account of slavery as the cruel system it was.
Examining public rituals, controversial monuments, and competing musical traditions, Denmark Vesey’s Garden tracks these two rival memories from the Civil War to recent decades—when a segregated tourism industry reflecting these opposing visions of the past took hold in the popular vacation destination. Denmark Vesey’s Garden exposes a hidden dimension of America’s deep racial divide, joining the small bookshelf of major, paradigm-shifting interpretations of slavery’s enduring legacy in the United States.