This revisionist work delineates the major social and economic contours of the large black population in the pivotal Southern city of Charleston, South Carolina., historic seaport center for the slave trade. It draws upon census data, manuscript collections, and newspaper accounts to expand our knowledge of this particular community of nineteenth-century black urbanites.
Although the federal government codified the rights of African-Americans into law following the Civil War, it was the initiatives taken by black men and women that actually transformed the theoretical benefits of emancipation into clear achievement.
Because of its large free black population, Charleston provided a case study of black social class stratification and social mobility even before the war. Reconstruction only emphasized that stratification, and Powers examines in detail the aspirations and concessions that shaped the lives of the newly freed blacks, who were led by a black upper class tat sometimes seemed more inclined to emulate white social mores than act as a vanguard for fundamental social change.
Unlike most Reconstruction studies, which concentrate on politics, Black Charlestonians explores the era’s vital socioeconomic challenges for blacks as they emerged into full citizenship in an important city in the South.
Choice’s 1996 Outstanding Academic Books List