The Promise of the New South

The Promise of the New South : Life After Reconstruction

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At a public picnic in the South in the 1890s, a young man paid five cents for his first chance to hear the revolutionary Edison talking machine. He eagerly listened as the soundman placed the needle down, only to find that through the tubes he held to his ears came the chilling sounds of a lynching. In this story, with its blend of new technology and old hatreds, genteel picnics and mob violence, Edward Ayers captures the history of the South in the years between Reconstruction and the turn of the century - a combination of progress and reaction that defined the contradictory promise of the New South. Ranging from the Georgia coast to the Tennessee mountains, from the power brokers to tenant farmers, Ayers depicts a land of startling contrasts - a time of progress and repression, of new industries and old ways. Ayers takes us from remote Southern towns, revolutionized by the spread of the railroads, to the statehouses where Democratic "Redeemers" swept away the legacy of Reconstruction; from the small farmers, trapped into growing nothing but cotton, to the new industries of Birmingham; from abuse and intimacy in the family to tumultuous public meetings of the prohibitionists. He explores every aspect of society, politics, and the economy, detailing the importance of each in the emerging New South. Here is the local Baptist congregation, the country store, the tobacco-stained second-class railroad car, the rise of Populism: the teeming, nineteenth-century South comes to life in these pages. And central to the entire story is the role of race relations, from alliances and friendships between blacks and whites to the spread of Jim Crow laws and disenfranchisement. Ayers weaves all thesedetails into the contradictory story of the New South, showing how the region developed the patterns it was to follow for the next fifty years. When Edward Ayers published Vengeance & Justice, a landmark study of crime and punishment in the nineteenth-century South, he received unshow more

Product details

  • Hardback | 584 pages
  • 162.56 x 243.84 x 48.26mm | 884.5g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 25 half-tones, 10 maps
  • 0195037561
  • 9780195037562

About Edward L. Ayers

About the Author: Edward Ayers is Professor of History at the University of Virginia and is the author of Vengeance and more

Review Text

A uniquely comprehensive cultural, political, and social history of post-Reconstruction, exploring not only "the South's deep poverty and institutionalized injustice" but also "the complexity of experience in the new South. "Ayers (History/Univ. of Virginia; Vengeance and Justice, 1983) aims "to understand what it meant to live in the American South in the years after Reconstruction." To achieve this, he examines the matrix of economic and societal forces that shaped the South's singular culture. He argues that the political and social milieux in the South in the initial years following the end of Reconstruction were fluid, and that as conservative Democrats, and factions sympathetic to their objectives, gradually came to dominate the public life of the region, the post-Reconstruction South slowly assumed its distinctive character. Ayers sees the railroad in particular as a powerful catalyst of socioeconomic change. The rapid expansion of the railroad, he contends, engendered new cities and gave rise to commercial and industrial growth while encouraging the development of racial segregation (the segregation of railroad carriages, a concession to the laws of a few reactionary states, led to the landmark Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which approved the "separate but equal" doctrine). While there were, then, reactionary aspects to southern political life in the post-Reconstruction era, the great Populist movement of the late 19th century, Ayers theorizes, had its roots in the political interest groups that coalesced in the South. The author also surveys the major social institutions and significant literary and cultural activity in the South during this period. Ayers succeeds in depicting the post-Reconstruction South not as a repressed backwater of American life, but as a region that, despite substantial injustices, made significant contributions to American life. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

139 ratings
3.81 out of 5 stars
5 26% (36)
4 40% (56)
3 24% (34)
2 8% (11)
1 1% (2)
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