Skip to main content
Harvard University Press - home
American Oracle

American Oracle

The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era

David W. Blight

ISBN 9780674725973

Publication date: 10/07/2013

Request exam copy

“The ghosts of the Civil War never leave us, as David Blight knows perhaps better than anyone, and in this superb book he masterfully unites two distant but inextricably bound events.”Ken Burns

Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, a century after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Martin Luther King, Jr., declared, “One hundred years later, the Negro still is not free.” He delivered this speech just three years after the Virginia Civil War Commission published a guide proclaiming that “the Centennial is no time for finding fault or placing blame or fighting the issues all over again.”

David Blight takes his readers back to the centennial celebration to determine how Americans then made sense of the suffering, loss, and liberation that had wracked the United States a century earlier. Amid cold war politics and civil rights protest, four of America’s most incisive writers explored the gulf between remembrance and reality. Robert Penn Warren, the southern-reared poet-novelist who recanted his support of segregation; Bruce Catton, the journalist and U.S. Navy officer who became a popular Civil War historian; Edmund Wilson, the century’s preeminent literary critic; and James Baldwin, the searing African-American essayist and activist—each exposed America’s triumphalist memory of the war. And each, in his own way, demanded a reckoning with the tragic consequences it spawned.

Blight illuminates not only mid-twentieth-century America’s sense of itself but also the dynamic, ever-changing nature of Civil War memory. On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the war, we have an invaluable perspective on how this conflict continues to shape the country’s political debates, national identity, and sense of purpose.

Praise

  • The Civil War has given us not only great history, literature, and art, but also great works of thought. David Blight enriches this canon by probing the war’s power to haunt and inspire every generation. American Oracle is intellectual history at its best—deep terrain, mined by a scholar who brings gems to the page.

    —Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic

Awards

  • 2012, Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards

Author

  • 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

  • 328 pages
  • 0-13/16 x 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

From this author

Recommendations