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Race and Reunion

The Civil War in American Memory

David W. Blight

ISBN 9780674022096

Publication date: 07/01/2009

No historical event has left as deep an imprint on America's collective memory as the Civil War. In the war's aftermath, Americans had to embrace and cast off a traumatic past. David Blight explores the perilous path of remembering and forgetting, and reveals its tragic costs to race relations and America's national reunion.In 1865, confronted with a ravaged landscape and a torn America, the North and South began a slow and painful process of reconciliation. The ensuing decades witnessed the triumph of a culture of reunion, which downplayed sectional division and emphasized the heroics of a battle between noble men of the Blue and the Gray. Nearly lost in national culture were the moral crusades over slavery that ignited the war, the presence and participation of African Americans throughout the war, and the promise of emancipation that emerged from the war. Race and Reunion is a history of how the unity of white America was purchased through the increasing segregation of black and white memory of the Civil War. Blight delves deeply into the shifting meanings of death and sacrifice, Reconstruction, the romanticized South of literature, soldiers' reminiscences of battle, the idea of the Lost Cause, and the ritual of Memorial Day. He resurrects the variety of African-American voices and memories of the war and the efforts to preserve the emancipationist legacy in the midst of a culture built on its denial.

Blight's sweeping narrative of triumph and tragedy, romance and realism, is a compelling tale of the politics of memory, of how a nation healed from civil war without justice. By the early twentieth century, the problems of race and reunion were locked in mutual dependence, a painful legacy that continues to haunt us today.


  • Blight describes how Americans decided to remember the devastation of the Civil War during the decades that followed...[He] has distilled a mass of historical material into an impressive, clearly written volume that...reads well and rings true.

    —Kirkus Reviews


  • 2002, Joint winner of the James A. Rawley Prize
  • 2001, Winner of the Frederick Douglass Book Prize
  • 2002, Winner of the Bancroft Prize
  • 2002, Winner of the Merle Curti Award
  • 2002, Winner of the Ellis W. Hawley Prize
  • 2002, Winner of the Merle Curti Award in American Intellectual History


  • David W. Blight is Sterling Professor of American History and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. He is the author of many books, including Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, which won the Pulitzer Prize for History, and Race and Reunion (Harvard), which received the Bancroft Prize and Frederick Douglass Prize, among other awards.

Book Details

  • Belknap Press

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