“Reconstruction” is traditionally used to name the period of contestation over political power in the U.S. South from the Civil War until 1877. The word carries substance and power but not quite enough of those to express the dramas experienced by slaves experiencing self-­emancipation or the insights of African Americanists studying that drama. In developing counternarratives of the coming of freedom and the dashing of hopes, freedpeople and scholars have changed this keyword in order to make its meaning more precise. In the 1860s, those who lived through the period often preferred “jubilee” to capture the possibilities of freedom and its immediate aftermath. W. E. B. Du Bois rewrote the past as one centering on “Black Reconstruction,” in an epic 1935 study designed to change the whole story of the period. Du Bois’s challenges to the extant white-­supremacist scholarship eventually won a fragile place in the mainstream wisdom regarding Reconstruction, but its impact on scholars of African American life has been profound, especially as its conclusions have more recently been extended and supported by Barbara Fields (1985), Gerald Jaynes (1986), Julie Saville (1994), Thavolia Glymph (2008), and others.

This essay may be found on page 168 of the printed volume.

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