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Primary Sources

Black Reconstruction
Du Bois published Black Reconstruction (BR) in 1935 with Harcourt, Brace and Company (New York). He completed it after leaving the NAACP and returning to Atlanta University. Its subtitle, "An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in Amer­i­ca, 1860-1880," neatly summarized his central argument in the book. Accordingly, Black Reconstruction foregrounds several recurring Du Boisian themes: the role of African Amer­i­can agency in the building of the U.S.A. and the signif­i­cance of pro­moting African American equality and freedom in order to achieve the promise of democracy. The book directly chal­lenged dominant views of the time that the Recon­struc­tion era in Amer­i­can history was a disaster for the South and for the country. It received much comment, including criticisms, from across the political spectrum.

This web page is divided into sections containing links to online resources that pertain to:
* the primary text and related items, including Internet-accessible copies of BR in various formats;
* book reviews, notes, and notices by contemporaries of Du Bois; and
* contemporary secondary sources that relate directly or indirectly to BR.
* later secondary sources that refer directly or indirectly to BR.
Note that over time I will add other pertinent items, such as a "Related Works" area.
Robert W. Williams, Ph.D.  [Bio] 

LATEST LINK (As of 1 June 2016)
Later Secondary Sources
Posted below is an external link to "When Slaves Go On Strike: W.E.B. Du Bois's Black Reconstruction 80 Years Later" written by Dr. Guy Emerson Mount and published online at the African American Intellectual History Society website in December 2015.

Black reconstruction: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880 (NY: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1935) is publicly and freely accessible at one web site.
The 1935 original is available at the Internet Archive in several downloadable digital formats (download page)
For educators teaching Black Reconstruction:
* The Lesson Plan "Reconstructing America, Reconstructing History: W.E.B. Du Bois' Vision of the United States after the Civl War" is available via the Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst library. It is part of SCUA's project "Source, Story: History" which relates historical topics to the materials accessible in its archives. This particular lesson plan poses various interesting questions that would be useful to explore with high school and undergraduate students.
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The Credo Online Repository contains correspondence related to Black Reconstruction, including letters to the publisher and requests for information and sources to be used in the writing of the manuscript. The Credo Online Repository is a database of the Du Bois Collection of primary and secondary materials that is housed at the University of Massachusetts Amherst library. Searching on Credo for the book title will yield (numerous) useful results: "Black Reconstruction". It should be noted that only the metadata description can be searched (not the items themselves). You can find more information at my intra-site About page.
Credo (Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst)
In "Reconstruction and Its Benefits" (1910) Du Bois prefigured some of the later analyses he put forth in Black Reconstruction. This article was published in the American Historical Review, 15:4 (July 1910) at pp.781-799, and is based on a presentation that he delivered at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in 1909. In the essay Du Bois sketched the political consequences of the 15th Amendment on the legislation of the South. For example, he examined the democratic facets of the state constitutions established by Black legislators, including the creation of public education for all citizens.
The full text is available at the Internet Archive in several digital formats
[The entire Volume 15 of the journal at]
Kirkus Reviews published an Anonymous review entitled "Black Reconstruction By W. E. B. Du Bois". I was unable to locate the full citation for this review (but I have been searching for it). The short review is presented below verbatim (including its capitalization of the word "Negro") and in its entirety:
    Here's the groundwork on which Johnson's little book should stand (see report page 282), a scholarly piece of research into the history of the part the Negro played in the abortive attempt to reconstruct democracy between the years 1860 and 1880. A survey of the situation of the Negro prior to the War between the States, an upsetting of some of the sentimentalized ideas of the position of the Negro under slavery, a study of the part played by the Negro in the war itself, and then an exhaustive searching into every aspect of the post-war conditions, -- the fight for the vote, the problems in the states where the Negro vote over-balanced the white vote, the contrasting situations in various states, the tragedy of the Northern interference and the carpetbaggers and land grabbers. The whole period a blot on our history, and a tragedy for the Negro people. The market -- all interested in going to the bottom of the Negro problem today.
 Placed below the text on the web page, we find two items which might refer to publishing details for the book:
Pub Date: Dec. 6th, 1934    Publisher: Harcourt, Brace
The New York Times published a review by William MacDonald entitled "The American Negro's Part in the Reconstruction Years" (dated June 16, 1935). Overall, the review was positive and reflective of the different audiences for Du Bois's book. MacDonald started his commentary as follows:
One cannot read far in this discursive and repetitious but nevertheless remarkable book without noticing the passionate devotion which Professor Du Bois feels for his race and its cause, and his utter scorn for many, if not most, of the historians and biographers whose views about reconstruction differ from his own. Both devotion and scorn are of the warp and woof of the narrative and its frequent and extended comments, and the reader will do well if, before plunging into the 700 pages of narrative text, he turns from the provocative preface to the final chapter and scans the appended bibliography. There he will learn not only how abysmally wrong some eminent "authorities" on reconstruction have been about the Negro's part in it but also how a surprising number of them appear to have sinned against the light.
 MacDonald ends his review with the following two paragraphs:
One puts down this extraordinary book with mixed feelings. Of the Negro's part in reconstruction it is beyond question the most painstaking and thorough study ever made. There is no need to accept the author's views about racial equality in order to recognize the imposing contribution which he has made to a critical period of American history, nor need one be a Marxian to perceive that, in treating the Negro experience as a part of the American labor movement in general, he has given that movement an orientation very different from what it has commonly had.
Yet there runs through the book a note of challenge which seems to point, in the author's mind at least, to the imminence of an inescapable and deadly racial struggle. "There can be no compromise," writes Professor Du Bois, in the fight for absolute equality, for "this is the last great battle of the West." Such words can be dismissed as those of emotion or fantasy if they spring only from long brooding over discrimination, suffering and defeat, but they have a graver import if, as appears to be the case, they represent the mature conviction and hope of a scholar and writer who is widely regarded as one of the foremost intellectuals of his race.
MacDonald's review at the New York Times web site
In The Best Books of the Decade 1926-1935 (1937) Asa Don Dickinson included a brief biography of Du Bois and an even briefer description of Black Reconstruction. Presented below is the pertinent full text reproduced verbatim (but lacking some of the formatting in the original):
Du Bois, W. E. Burghardt     1868-
American scholar and author. Born, Great Barrington, Massachusetts, of mixed ancestry, Dutch, French and African; educated at Fisk University, Harvard, the University of Berlin and the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught at Wilberforce University and for many years at Atlanta University. He is the author of many books concerned with the negro [sic] race and has been a leader in the movement for its advancement. He founded The Crisis in 1910 and served as its editor till 1932.
A controversial book on our Civil War and its aftermath, written with great eloquence and earnestness, and based upon wide scholarship and careful documentation.
Note 1 (Citation): Dickinson, Asa Don. 1937. The Best Books of the Decade 1926-1935 NY: The H. W. Wilson Company, at pp.55-56.
 Note 2: The bold-faced number listed above (96) refers to its ranking. The author wrote this about the ranking system used in his book: "The number in bold-face type which accompanies each title is its adjusted rating according to a consensus of the best obtainable critical opinion. These 'scores' range between a minimum of 80 and the maximum of 380." [p. xi]
The review (pp. 55-56) is viewable within Dickinson's book at Hathi Trust Digital Library
In his Reading Guide for Social Studies Teachers (1941) Edgar Bruce Wesley brief reviews BR (p.80), noting its scholarly thoroughness, but also its author's race and class biases. The review for BR is presented below verbatim and in its entirety:
DuBois, W. E. B. Black Reconstruction. Harcourt, Brace, 1935. 746 p.
The author feels that most accounts of the Reconstruction period do gross injustice to the Negro. He tries to correct the record, and his careful examination of the legislative performance of the Negro legislatures is quite convincing. The desire to erase the bitterness of the war has undoubtedly led many historians to lean backward in their treatment of the South during this period. The almost uniform chorus of condemnation accorded to the acts of Congress should have awakened the suspicion of some critical historian. DuBois's record is somewhat marred by class-consciousness or race-consciousness, but he has unquestionably performed a real service to historical scholarship.
Note (Citation): Wesley, Edgar Bruce. 1941. Reading Guide for Social Studies Teachers. Bulletin Number 17. Washington, D.C.: The National Council for the Social Studies.
The note (p.80) is viewable within Wesley's book at Hathi Trust Digital Library
"Black Controversy," an article written by Oswald Garrison Villard, was published in The Saturday Review of Literature on 18 January 1936 (Vol. XIII, no. 12; pp.3-4, 15). After an overview of the Reconstruction era, Villard discussed the importance of Du Bois's Black Reconstruction as arising from its different standpoint. Villard wrote:
Undoubtedly the white historians on both sides, North and South, have written with bias. It is therefore an event of great significance that we are finally beginning to hear from the third party to this grievous problem, that an historian of the black race has presented the Negro point of view. Dr. W. E. B. DuBois in his recent remarkable book "Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880," has made an extremely valuable contribution to the history of the reconstruction legislatures and above all he has approached the whole problem from a new and original point of view—a strong socialist point of view, Hence, reconstruction becomes for him only an episode, it a very tragic and utterly unhappy one, of the class struggle, of the effort of labor everywhere to win recognition and adequate compensation and decent living conditions. In consequence he lays the blame for the total failure of reconstruction not merely upon the Southerners, but upon white labor which failed to come to the rescue of its colored brethren, with the resultant increasing of its own difficulties, and struggles.  [p.15; endnote removed]
Villard also offered his critique of Du Bois.
Undoubtedly Dr. DuBois goes much too far in attributing to the embryonic unorganized labor stirrings of the sixties much of the solidarity, the coherence, and self-consciousness of the labor movement—such as it is—of today. The sin of special pleading remains the chief sin of the historian! Similarly he does not keep within historic hounds in portraying the hegira of the Negro during the war from the plantation to the North and the Northern armies as a sort of conscious general strike, as part of a Marxian move against capitalism, Was it not rather the natural, unconscious, unorganized drift of embattled and endangered masses in the direction of freedom and safety? But one cannot dissent from Dr. DuBois's verdict that as it turned out it was all "a triumph of men who, in their effort to replace equality with caste and to build inordinate wealth on the foundation of abject poverty have succeeded in killing democracy, art, and religion?"  [p.15; quotation from Black Reconstruction, p.707]
Start page of article (which is available at
Page 15 of the article (scroll down)
"'The American Blindspot': Reconstruction According to Eric Foner and W.E.B. Du Bois" was published by Dr. Noel Ignatiev in Labour / Le Travail (v.31, Spring 1993, pp.243-251). Ignatiev challenges Eric Foner's implication in Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution (1988) that Du Bois's Black Reconstruction and Foner's analysis were essentially the same, the former anticipating later research, such as Foner's. Ignatiev argues that the conceptual frameworks in the two works differ dramatically. He writes:
Du Bois described the slaveholders not merely as a wealthy elite, but as owners of capital. The world market "set prices for Southern cotton, tobacco and sugar which left a narrow margin of profit for the planter." If the slaveholders were capitalists, it followed that the labourers were proletarians. He expressed this notion throughout the book, beginning with the title of the first chapter, which he called not "The Black Slave" but "The Black Worker."
Foner identifies capitalism with the wage form. His references to the slaveholders as a "reactionary and aristocratic ruling class" and as "Bourbons" imply a model based on the French ancien regime. He carefully avoids using the terms "worker" or "proletarian" to describe the slaves. To him they were—slaves.  [pp.243-4; citations and page references removed]
Ignatiev notes another important difference between Du Bois and Foner:
Du Bois wrote "an essay toward a history of the part which black folk played in the attempt to reconstruct democracy in America, 1860-1880." (subtitle) It is the story of the striving of a group of labourers, taking advantage of conflicts among the propertied classes, to advance their own interests. Foner tells how the industrialists manipulated the freedmen to overcome the resistance of the former slaveholders and reconstruct the South along capitalist lines. The two books are not about the same revolution, that is all.
Available at the Labour / Le Travail journal website
"The Race of Time: Du Bois and Reconstruction" was written by Dr. Charles Lemert (website) and published in boundary 2 (27:3, Fall 2000, pp.215-248). Dr. Lemert starts the essay with an exposition on Derrida and the critique leveled by deconstruction against conventional understandings of historical time. He writes:
Deconstruction, one might say, allows the meanings that would otherwise be said to remain in their naturally loose state of deferral, of being always at a remove from any attempt to capture and organize them, of being never present. Deconstruction thus acknowledges the race of time. The time of modern culture is historical time, in which everything depends on the possibility of running the past through the present in order to promise a "better" future than could ever "be." Modern time is, thus, time out of place. It refuses to account for the possibility that the present is nothing at all because all of its meanings are always somewhere else—waiting to be said, heard, written, acted on. The present races so fast as to be virtually always somewhere else. The question that could, therefore, be asked is, What does the race of time have to do with the time of race?  [p.221]
Next, Lemert summarizes the main themes of Black Reconstruction and relates Du Bois to Karl Marx's theory of capitalism. He then interprets Black Reconstruction through a deconstructive lens focusing on the implicit conceptions of history and History in Du Bois's book.
Du Bois made no effort to iron out the history of labor's exploitation onto the flat plane of purposive history. He was the historian who disavowed History. The path between the backward and forward of the story in Black Reconstruction was not of a common, or even parallel, relation of ownership to labor. It was that, true; but more. The path was rather that through the worker himself—the Black and white workers, on whose backs both the system of feudal agriculture and modern industry depended. Marx valued the worker, for whom everything that mattered mattered. But Marx's worker was, from the first of his explicit writings on the elementary labor process, never truly in history. His disavowal of the early modern method of projecting history back to an origin prior to history was more a rhetorical move than an accomplishment. For Marx, History was the history of the fall of free labor before the varieties of ownership, for which the proof was in the dream of the classless society as the redemption of History.
Du Bois thought about History and history in very different terms. He dreamed of no final utopia. He never gave the least thought to History with an Origin in Paradise. For Du Bois there was no History. Only histories—narrative accounts of hopes wrought against the record of oppression of the worker. Hope was founded, therefore, on the prospects of industrial democracy. In 1934, near the worst of the Great Depression, he could not have held this hope all too firmly. But he held it—and not as a matter of principle (his principles led to action) but as a matter of hard-won experience with the reality of work that was always racial. Marx, we might say, never more fully revealed his debt to the very liberal culture he claimed to abjure than in his famous inability to see the darkness of labor. Both the Black and the white worker were bound in the subaltern system that industrial capitalism had, in the 1860s, perfected to its own ends. Neither truly saw the vision of paradise regained, because both, in their segregated ways, understood that the working class will forever be pushed, to the extent that workers permit, back into the darkness. Liberal History claims there is only progressively more light. Du Bois's history, with its tenacious readiness to see the reversals—the forwards and backwards—of historical time, was always a story of the play of darkness on light. [pp.244-5]
Available at the digital archives at Wesleyan University   [Alternate site (PDF)]
"When Slaves Go On Strike: W.E.B. Du Bois's Black Reconstruction 80 Years Later", an extensive posting by Dr. Guy Emerson Mount (faculty page), which was published online at the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) website (28 December 2015). Dr. Mount discusses the main points of Du Bois's text, highlighting the important aspect of enslaved persons as agents in the own liberation. He also covers more recent historical scholarship that exam­ines the general strike thesis and other aspects of Du Bois's Black Recon­struc­tion. He writes:
Du Bois’s insistence on black people as a revolutionary proletariat during the Civil War pointed to a glaring hole in both Marxist theories surrounding slavery and the more general study of African Americans by professional academics. Yet even as he bemoaned the neglect of black people within the intellectual annals of modernity, Du Bois paradoxically worked outward from a deep grounding in German Romanticism, classic liberalism, and traditional political theory. As a seminal figure in what Columbia University Professor Robert Gooding-Williams has since branded "Afro-Modern Political Thought," Du Bois's general strike thesis continues to cast a long shadow over contem­po­rary historiography and black intellectuals alike. It also represents a place where Du Bois's often-bemoaned elitism seems to fizzle away into oblivion. Eighty years later lessons still abound in Black Reconstruction. This is true not only for scholars working on postemancipation America, but for today's diverse cohort of intellectual historians who are constantly at risk of ignoring the next Du Bois in their midst.
Available at the African American Intellectual History Society website
"Review: 'Lincoln' Somehow Missed the General Strike" is a movie review by Tim Schermerhorn published online at Labor Notes (March 14, 2013). Schermerhorn considers the merits of the movie "Lincoln," but notes a significant historical gap in the film, one to be filled by Black Reconstruction:
Though a well-done Hollywood drama, "Lincoln" leaves out this important history. Just a reference to DuBois's blunt prescription would have introduced perspective: "How the Civil War meant Emancipation and how the Black Worker won the War by a General Strike which Transferred his Labor from the Confederate planter to the Northern invader in whose Army lines Workers began to be Organized as a new Labor Force." The political story of the Civil War is the story of a general strike.
Steven Spielberg directed his telling of history through a very small window, four months in 1863, and on a very narrow stage, the U.S. Congress. The bigger lessons occurring simultaneously begin with the centrality and power of large, sweeping labor action as part of a democratic movement to change society.
The other big lesson of the Civil War is that the most oppressed people in the society, illiterate and downtrodden, changed all political agendas through a general strike.

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