Race and Reunion Summary

Race and Reunion

Paul Buck's 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning The Road to Reunion, 1865-1900 celebrated the ease with which the warring sections overcame the passions of the Civil War and united patriotically during the Spanish-American War. Blacks hardly entered into Buck's account, but they are at the center of David W. Blight's analysis in Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. He uses articles in the black press and statements by black spokesmen to show how radically white and black views of the war diverged over the half-century.

Blight contrasts two ways of evaluating the meaning the war: "emancipationist," asserting that the war brought about the Republic's rebirth as a land of freedom and equality, and "reconciliationist," stressing the two sections communality. Blight regrets that these approaches could not coexist. Reconciliation prevailed; consequently Confederate viewpoints dominated American memory of the war.

Blight examines Decoration Day orations, soldiers' reminiscences citing the bravery of both sides, celebrations of the "Lost Cause," scholarly histories written by Southern academics, and sentimental novels of plantation life portraying child-like blacks happy within the confines of slavery. Only the black press reported Emancipation Day celebrations and conventions of black veterans. Whites, North and South, accepted the view that slavery played no part in causing the war, and white supremacy, not equality, became the proper social order for the South.

Blight opens and closes his work with an account of the triumph of racial exclusion and segregation at the semi-centennial celebration of the battle of Gettysburg, July, 1913. Public funds paid for the transportation and care of over fifty thousand Confederate and Union white veterans. No black veterans were invited.