A Book Review Presented to Dr. James Leiker In Partial Fulfillment of History 307 University of Missouri – Kansas City By Nathan Gourley September 2006 The purpose of Race and Reunion appears to be the explaining of the effect of the Civil War in the memories of the generations that followed the conflict, as well as how it shaped society.
Blight attempts to shine a light on the fact that much of the healing after the war was at the expense of the freed slaves. The intended audience would probably be those who have some background knowledge of the Civil War, but lack the understanding to a certain extent, of the long lasting repercussions on different groups of Americans. The thesis of Race and Reunion is about how despite the clear military victory of the North, the South convinced the Union they knew what was best for the freed slaves.
Blight’s book goes right along with the class discussions that we have had; about the poor treatment of blacks especially in the South and how the Compromise of 1876 and the withdrawal of the troops from the South meant the end of protected freedoms for black Americans. Blight’s book also reflects the readings “Plessy v. Ferguson” and “Congressman Frank Clark Praises Segregation, 1908” from Major Problems in the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era.
It reconfirms that black Americans were not seen as citizens or in a lot of cases as human beings, but as a dirty inferior race, whose problems were simply being put on the back burner of American society. The book is very scatter structured as far as the flow of time, the flow of ideas however seem to compensate for this. At times you feel that some of the information that Blight is feeding you is irrelevant.
As a reader I felt lost at times because of the lack of a sense of time, and its jumping of time periods caused misunderstandings and at times forced me to have to revisit what I had previously read. But as I just mentioned his connecting of ideas and themes seems to make sense. In addition I felt that the language was not very simple and found myself looking up several words. Blight has done his research to say the least with Race and Reunion.
He has carefully documented every source, giving an explanation of what its saying and how it supports his book. Several books (and in same cases editions of books), newspapers, and reports give Blights book a solid foundation. With several references per page, it leaves very little doubt in the mind of the reader. The only limitation to Blight’s book would be perhaps the limitations of his previous reads if they tended to be slanted to an opinion, but does not seem to be apparent in his book.
Blight’s concludes in his Epilogue that segregation had created two very different societies with different memories of history, and that the Reconstruction had failed racial equality for black Americans. I feel that his resources were very adequate in supporting the idea that he was presenting. While I thought that Blights presentation could have been better, his substance is very convincing. His insight on the shaping of the United States society and memory was very informative, but not always so interesting.
Blight’s book did little to convince me that about his subject, mostly because of the fact that the book was somewhat dry. My opinion aside, I feel that his subject is important because it describes the feelings and decisions that have shaped American memory and society which have a lasting impact to this day. Although Blight goes to great lengths to provide a basis for his thesis, I do not feel that he exhibits any real strong bias; he seems to present facts that are very relevant to the time period and subject without letting his own feelings show through.
If I had to point out one area that he seemed to perhaps push the reader is in his Epilogue where at certain places he seems to be rushing his idea out once more and the rush of statements could be considered a little negative in regards to the United States, but nothing he says contradicts facts that he hadn’t already presented. David Blight’s book was very informative, but not incredibly interesting. I had trouble keeping interest and at times forced myself to finish chapters. The tangents that Blight seemed to wonder on would make me feel as if I was wasting my time with irrelevant information.
I think he could have done a better job organizing the book and at the same time, dulling down the language to where it wasn’t quite as advanced. The size of the book too was a big overwhelming at times and when I had to revisit areas that were very messy I would get frustrated with his writing style. I would recommend this book to a historian who is interested in perhaps African-American, or Civil War studies, the book provides a tremendous amount of information surround the subject and could be useful.
Not to mention the amount of resources that are listed in the notes of the book, Blight leaves little room for error and a Historian looking for a good read concerning race relations and the Civil War would find Blight’s book interesting. It provides a good background on the current history of the differences that exists today in American culture. I feel that David W. Blight has written a fairly decent read, but needs to work more on keeping the attention of this audience if he wishes to appeal to a wider spread of historians.