A Nation under Our Feet: Book summary and reviews of A Nation under Our Feet by Steven Hahn

A Nation under Our Feet

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

by Steven Hahn

A Nation under Our Feet

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Book Summary

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.

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Book Awards

  • award image Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music, 2004

Reviews

Media Reviews

"While the reading of this work is an intellectual exercise in itself, the scope of the text and the depth of Hahn's research recommends it to every teacher of American history." - KLIATT

"Original and deeply informed, the book does an excellent job of rendering those devoted "to the making of a new political nation while they made themselves into a new people"." - PW

"[An] ambitious and fascinating book" - New Yorker

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