Selected to accompany the exhibition Deconstructing Power: W. E. B. Du Bois at the 1900 World’s Fair, on view at Cooper Hewitt from December 9, 2022 through May 29, 2023.
—A definitive edition of the landmark book that forever changed our understanding of the Civil War’s aftermath and the legacy of racism in America
Upon publication in 1935, W.E.B. Du Bois’s now classic Black Reconstruction offered a revelatory new assessment of Reconstruction—and of American democracy itself. One of the towering African American thinkers and activists of the twentieth century, Du Bois brought all his intellectual powers to bear on the nation’s post-Civil War era of political reorganization, a time when African American progress was met with a white supremacist backlash and ultimately yielded to the consolidation of the unjust social order of Jim Crow.
Black Reconstruction is a pioneering work of revisionist scholarship that, in the wake of the censorship of Du Bois’s characterization of Reconstruction by the Encyclopedia Britannica, was written to debunk influential historians whose racist ideas and emphases had disfigured the historical record. “The chief witness in Reconstruction, the emancipated slave himself,” Du Bois argued, “has been almost barred from court. His written Reconstruction record has been largely destroyed and nearly always neglected.” In setting the record straight Du Bois produced what co-editor Eric Foner has called an “indispensable book,” a magisterial work of detached scholarship that is also imbued with passionate outrage.
Presented in a handsome and authoritative hardcover edition prepared by Foner and co-editor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Black Reconstruction is joined here for the first time with important writings that trace Du Bois’s thinking throughout his career about Reconstruction and its centrality in understanding the tortured course of democracy in America.