Why did Reconstruction fail? Why didn’t the post-war Federal government protect the civil rights of the newly freed slaves? And why did it take Washington almost a century to intercede on the behalf of beleaguered, oppressed African Americans in the South? In a terrific new book, Charles Lane explains why. The Day Freedom Died. The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction (Henry Holt, 2008) tells the tale of a little-known though remarkably important incident: the murder of close to 100 freedmen by a posse of White supremacists in Louisiana in 1873. Charles does an excellent job of narrating this heart-wrenching and disturbing event. The book would be worth reading for that story alone. But he really comes into his own in describing the legal aftermath of the slaughter. With all the skill of a seasoned reporter–which he is–Charles chronicles the passage of the Colfax case from the courts of New Orleans to the U.S. Supreme Court. The result was a landmark decision–United States v. Cruikshank–that effectively placed the civil rights of Southern African Americans in the hands of Southern Whites for almost a century, with predictable results. A must-read for anyone interested in Reconstruction, constitutional law, and the sad history of race-relations in the United States.
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