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Stony the Road
Cover of Stony the Road
Stony the Road
Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow
"Stony the Road presents a bracing alternative to Trump-era white nationalism. . . . In our current politics we recognize African-American history—the spot under our country's rug where the terrorism and injustices of white supremacy are habitually swept. Stony the Road lifts the rug." —Nell Irvin Painter, New York Times Book Review
A profound new rendering of the struggle by African-Americans for equality after the Civil War and the violent counter-revolution that resubjugated them, as seen through the prism of the war of images and ideas that have left an enduring racist stain on the American mind.

The abolition of slavery in the aftermath of the Civil War is a familiar story, as is the civil rights revolution that transformed the nation after World War II. But the century in between remains a mystery: if emancipation sparked "a new birth of freedom" in Lincoln's America, why was it necessary to march in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s America? In this new book, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., one of our leading chroniclers of the African-American experience, seeks to answer that question in a history that moves from the Reconstruction Era to the "nadir" of the African-American experience under Jim Crow, through to World War I and the Harlem Renaissance.
Through his close reading of the visual culture of this tragic era, Gates reveals the many faces of Jim Crow and how, together, they reinforced a stark color line between white and black Americans. Bringing a lifetime of wisdom to bear as a scholar, filmmaker, and public intellectual, Gates uncovers the roots of structural racism in our own time, while showing how African Americans after slavery combatted it by articulating a vision of a "New Negro" to force the nation to recognize their humanity and unique contributions to America as it hurtled toward the modern age.
The story Gates tells begins with great hope, with the Emancipation Proclamation, Union victory, and the liberation of nearly 4 million enslaved African-Americans. Until 1877, the federal government, goaded by the activism of Frederick Douglass and many others, tried at various turns to sustain their new rights. But the terror unleashed by white paramilitary groups in the former Confederacy, combined with deteriorating economic conditions and a loss of Northern will, restored "home rule" to the South. The retreat from Reconstruction was followed by one of the most violent periods in our history, with thousands of black people murdered or lynched and many more afflicted by the degrading impositions of Jim Crow segregation.
An essential tour through one of America's fundamental historical tragedies, Stony the Road is also a story of heroic resistance, as figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells fought to create a counter-narrative, and culture, inside the lion's mouth. As sobering as this tale is, it also has within it the inspiration that comes with encountering the hopes our ancestors advanced against the longest odds.
"Stony the Road presents a bracing alternative to Trump-era white nationalism. . . . In our current politics we recognize African-American history—the spot under our country's rug where the terrorism and injustices of white supremacy are habitually swept. Stony the Road lifts the rug." —Nell Irvin Painter, New York Times Book Review
A profound new rendering of the struggle by African-Americans for equality after the Civil War and the violent counter-revolution that resubjugated them, as seen through the prism of the war of images and ideas that have left an enduring racist stain on the American mind.

The abolition of slavery in the aftermath of the Civil War is a familiar story, as is the civil rights revolution that transformed the nation after World War II. But the century in between remains a mystery: if emancipation sparked "a new birth of freedom" in Lincoln's America, why was it necessary to march in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s America? In this new book, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., one of our leading chroniclers of the African-American experience, seeks to answer that question in a history that moves from the Reconstruction Era to the "nadir" of the African-American experience under Jim Crow, through to World War I and the Harlem Renaissance.
Through his close reading of the visual culture of this tragic era, Gates reveals the many faces of Jim Crow and how, together, they reinforced a stark color line between white and black Americans. Bringing a lifetime of wisdom to bear as a scholar, filmmaker, and public intellectual, Gates uncovers the roots of structural racism in our own time, while showing how African Americans after slavery combatted it by articulating a vision of a "New Negro" to force the nation to recognize their humanity and unique contributions to America as it hurtled toward the modern age.
The story Gates tells begins with great hope, with the Emancipation Proclamation, Union victory, and the liberation of nearly 4 million enslaved African-Americans. Until 1877, the federal government, goaded by the activism of Frederick Douglass and many others, tried at various turns to sustain their new rights. But the terror unleashed by white paramilitary groups in the former Confederacy, combined with deteriorating economic conditions and a loss of Northern will, restored "home rule" to the South. The retreat from Reconstruction was followed by one of the most violent periods in our history, with thousands of black people murdered or lynched and many more afflicted by the degrading impositions of Jim Crow segregation.
An essential tour through one of America's fundamental historical tragedies, Stony the Road is also a story of heroic resistance, as figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells fought to create a counter-narrative, and culture, inside the lion's mouth. As sobering as this tale is, it also has within it the inspiration that comes with encountering the hopes our ancestors advanced against the longest odds.
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  • Library Journal

    November 15, 2018

    Investigating the roots of today's structural racism, Harvard scholar Gates shows how the rights African Americans thought they had secured with the Emancipation Proclamation were batted out of the sky by white resistance. Yet as the Reconstruction Era fell to Jim Crow segregation, African Americans reasserted their humanity with the vision of the "New Negro." With a companion PBS documentary.

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from March 11, 2019
    Gates (The Annotated African American Folktales), the director of Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research, provides an expansive exploration of Reconstruction, Redemption (white southerners’ attempts to reinstate a white supremacist system), and Jim Crow, demonstrating how they informed and engendered one another and sowed the seeds of the modern resurgence of white-supremacist ideas. Gates begins in the 1860s, with the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments providing African Americans basic civil rights, and continues through the backlash of Jim Crow legislation and related cultural trends (including eugenics, stereotypical representations of African-Americans like Uncle Remus, and D.W. Griffith’s KKK-redeeming film The Birth of a Nation). Gates illustrates how this widespread racism and resentment gave rise to the “New Negro,” a rallying of “black intellectuals, creative artists, and political activists” that became the Harlem Renaissance (and whose rhetoric prefigured respectability politics). Gates outlines the ideals and accomplishments of black thinkers including W.E.B. Du Bois, George Washington Williams, Frederick Douglass, and Booker T. Washington, and he insightfully demonstrates how history repeats itself by comparing the emergence of Jim Crow with the rise in white supremacism surrounding Barack Obama’s presidency. This excellent text, augmented by a disturbing collection of late-19th- and early-20th-century racist images, is indispensable for understanding American history.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from March 1, 2019
    The noted African-American literary scholar and critic examines the tangled, troubled years between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the modern civil rights movement.From the outset, writes Gates (African and African-American Research/Harvard Univ.; 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro, 2017, etc.), there was, among whites, a profound difference between being opposed to slavery and advocating equality for emancipated black people. Alexis de Tocqueville, he notes, warned of the latter that since "they cannot become the equals of the whites, they will speedily show themselves as enemies." Meanwhile, countless enemies emerged among the white population, from unreconstructed Southerners to the architects of Jim Crow laws. Gates argues, with Frederick Douglass, that freedom without the vote is meaningless, and those laws did all that they could to suppress suffrage. Meanwhile, there was the hope that a "New Negro" would emerge to change affairs once and for all--a trope, Gates notes, that emerged anew with the election of Barack Obama, a metaphor "first coined as a complex defensive mechanism that black people employed to fight back against racial segregation." Other mechanisms were born of necessity even as white culture found endless ways to appropriate from black culture while never accepting its authors. In a highly timely moment, Gates discusses the history of blackface, which was put to work in depictions of lascivious, predatory black men advancing the "thought that the ultimate fantasy of black males was to rape white women"--a thought that soon became an "obsession." Reconstruction failed for many reasons, and the ethos that followed it was no improvement: The period under consideration, as the author recounts, marked the rise of "scientific" racism, of "Sambo" images that were "intended to naturalize the visual image of the black person as subhuman," reinforcing the separate-and-unequal premises of Jim Crow itself. Gates suggests that it's possible to consider the entire history of America after the Civil War as "a long Reconstruction locked in combat with an equally long Redemption," one that's playing out even today.A provocative, lucid, and urgent contribution to the study of race in America.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from March 1, 2019
    Prominent and prolific scholar, writer, filmmaker, and educator Gates has long been compelled by Reconstruction and its rapid and bloody deconstruction. In his signature lucid and compelling approach to history, he tracks the vicious backlash against the post-Civil War constitutional amendments (the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth) that abolished slavery, established citizenship for African Americans, and ensured Black men the right to vote?and the resultant election of numerous Black legislators. White southerners retaliated with white-supremacist propaganda, scientific racism, racial violence, including lynchings, and the establishment of Jim Crow segregation laws. Accompanying Gates' illuminating narrative are bold visual essays presenting appalling mass-produced racist images casting African Americans as less than human, weaponized representations accompanied by hoaxes, or fake news, crafted to amplify demeaning stereotypes and heighten fears, especially of Black men as rapists. The parallels to renewed white-supremacist ideology and reactionary politics in the wake of the first African American presidency are staggering. Gates also incisively chronicles the New Negro movement aimed at countering pernicious racist stereotypes, how the Black elite engendered both an artistic renaissance and class divides within the Black community, and the rise of such crucial organizations as the NAACP. This fresh, much-needed inquiry into a misunderstood yet urgently relevant era will appear in conjunction with Gates' new PBS documentary, Reconstruction: America after the Civil War, scheduled for broadcast in April. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Gates' stature, the subject's timeliness, the airing of his new documentary, and the enormous potential for discussion will make this is a very hot title.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

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Stony the Road
Stony the Road
Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
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