Pulitzer Prize–winner Steven Hahn’s provocative new book challenges deep-rooted views in the writing of American and African-American history. Moving from slave emancipations of the eighteenth century through slave activity during the Civil War and on to the black power movements of the twentieth century, he asks us to rethink African-American history and politics in bolder, more dynamic terms.
Historians have offered important new perspectives and evidence concerning the geographical expanse of slavery in the United States and the protracted process of abolishing it. They have also uncovered a wealth of new material on the political currents running through black communities from enslavement to the present day. Yet their scholarship has failed to dislodge familiar interpretive frameworks that may no longer make much sense of the past.
Based on the Nathan I. Huggins Lectures at Harvard University, The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom asks why this may be so and offers sweeping reassessments. It defines new chronological and spatial boundaries for American and African-American politics during the first half of the nineteenth century. It suggests, with historical comparisons, that we may have missed a massive slave rebellion during the Civil War. And it takes a serious look at the development and appeal of Garveyism and the hidden history of black politics it may help to reveal. Throughout, it presents African Americans as central actors in the arenas of American politics, while emphasizing traditions of self-determination, self-governance, and self-defense among them.