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A Nation under Our Feet

A Nation under Our Feet

Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration

Steven Hahn

ISBN 9780674017658

Publication date: 04/30/2005

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This is the epic story of how African-Americans, in the six decades following slavery, transformed themselves into a political people—an embryonic black nation. As Steven Hahn demonstrates, rural African-Americans were central political actors in the great events of disunion, emancipation, and nation-building. At the same time, Hahn asks us to think in more expansive ways about the nature and boundaries of politics and political practice.

Emphasizing the importance of kinship, labor, and networks of communication, A Nation under Our Feet explores the political relations and sensibilities that developed under slavery and shows how they set the stage for grassroots mobilization. Hahn introduces us to local leaders, and shows how political communities were built, defended, and rebuilt. He also identifies the quest for self-governance as an essential goal of black politics across the rural South, from contests for local power during Reconstruction, to emigrationism, biracial electoral alliances, social separatism, and, eventually, migration.

Hahn suggests that Garveyism and other popular forms of black nationalism absorbed and elaborated these earlier struggles, thus linking the first generation of migrants to the urban North with those who remained in the South. He offers a new framework—looking out from slavery—to understand twentieth-century forms of black political consciousness as well as emerging battles for civil rights. It is a powerful story, told here for the first time, and one that presents both an inspiring and a troubling perspective on American democracy.


  • Steven Hahn’s A Nation under Our Feet is the most comprehensive account yet of black politics in the rural South before, during and after the Civil War. Whereas most previous work has focused either on the slave experience or on post-Emancipation struggles, Hahn’s book encompasses both and shows the continuities between how blacks fought for self-determination in the two periods… Based on prodigious research in primary sources, A Nation under Our Feet is one of the most important works in American social history to appear in recent years… This book [is] a major achievement and a landmark in African-American history.

    —George M. Frederickson, The Nation


  • 2004, Winner of the Bancroft Prize
  • 2004, Joint winner of the Merle Curti Award
  • 2004, Winner of the Pulitzer Prizes


  • Steven Hahn is Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor in American History at University of Pennsylvania.

Book Details

  • 624 pages
  • 1-1/8 x 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

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