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In the tradition of James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me, a deeply researched book that uncovers competing histories of how slavery is remembered in Charleston, South Carolina—the heart of Dixie A book that strikes at the heart of the recent flare-ups over Confederate symbols in Charlottesville, New Orleans, and elsewhere, Denmark Vesey’s Garden reveals the deep roots of In the tradition of James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me, a deeply researched book that uncovers competing histories of how slavery is remembered in Charleston, South Carolina—the heart of Dixie A book that strikes at the heart of the recent flare-ups over Confederate symbols in Charlottesville, New Orleans, and elsewhere, Denmark Vesey’s Garden reveals the deep roots of these controversies and traces them to the heart of slavery in the United States: Charleston, South Carolina, where almost half of the U.S. slave population stepped onto our shores, where the first shot at Fort Sumter began the Civil War, and where Dylann Roof shot nine people at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, the congregation of Denmark Vesey, a black revolutionary who plotted a massive slave insurrection in 1822. As early as 1865, former slaveholders and their descendants began working to preserve a romanticized memory of the antebellum South. In contrast, former slaves, their descendants, and some white allies have worked to preserve an honest, unvarnished account of slavery as the cruel system it was. Examining public rituals, controversial monuments, and whitewashed historical tourism, Denmark Vesey’s Garden tracks these two rival memories from the Civil War all the way to contemporary times, where two segregated tourism industries still reflect these opposing impressions of the past, exposing a hidden dimension of America’s deep racial divide. Denmark Vesey’s Garden joins the small bookshelf of major, paradigm-shifting new interpretations of slavery’s enduring legacy in the United States.


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In the tradition of James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me, a deeply researched book that uncovers competing histories of how slavery is remembered in Charleston, South Carolina—the heart of Dixie A book that strikes at the heart of the recent flare-ups over Confederate symbols in Charlottesville, New Orleans, and elsewhere, Denmark Vesey’s Garden reveals the deep roots of In the tradition of James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me, a deeply researched book that uncovers competing histories of how slavery is remembered in Charleston, South Carolina—the heart of Dixie A book that strikes at the heart of the recent flare-ups over Confederate symbols in Charlottesville, New Orleans, and elsewhere, Denmark Vesey’s Garden reveals the deep roots of these controversies and traces them to the heart of slavery in the United States: Charleston, South Carolina, where almost half of the U.S. slave population stepped onto our shores, where the first shot at Fort Sumter began the Civil War, and where Dylann Roof shot nine people at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, the congregation of Denmark Vesey, a black revolutionary who plotted a massive slave insurrection in 1822. As early as 1865, former slaveholders and their descendants began working to preserve a romanticized memory of the antebellum South. In contrast, former slaves, their descendants, and some white allies have worked to preserve an honest, unvarnished account of slavery as the cruel system it was. Examining public rituals, controversial monuments, and whitewashed historical tourism, Denmark Vesey’s Garden tracks these two rival memories from the Civil War all the way to contemporary times, where two segregated tourism industries still reflect these opposing impressions of the past, exposing a hidden dimension of America’s deep racial divide. Denmark Vesey’s Garden joins the small bookshelf of major, paradigm-shifting new interpretations of slavery’s enduring legacy in the United States.

30 review for Denmark Vesey's Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sherwood Smith

    Charleston offers an unusually clear window into the genealogy of social memory. It reveals how personal memories of the past coalesced into collective, social memory—the aggregation of individual remembrances. Neither white nor black Charlestonians could easily forget slavery, though some certainly tried. The book begins with a look at the way this memory is mapped over the landscape in statues, flags, and other symbols that celebrate a myth of the chivalric, romantic Lost Cause, and suppress ho Charleston offers an unusually clear window into the genealogy of social memory. It reveals how personal memories of the past coalesced into collective, social memory—the aggregation of individual remembrances. Neither white nor black Charlestonians could easily forget slavery, though some certainly tried. The book begins with a look at the way this memory is mapped over the landscape in statues, flags, and other symbols that celebrate a myth of the chivalric, romantic Lost Cause, and suppress how that entire economy was built on the scarred backs of slaves. It begins with Dylann Roof’s recent shooting of nine people in one of Charleston’s oldest churches—after months of careful research, punctuated by proud selfies posted on the Internet along with Confederate flags, which touched off a firestorm of reaction for and against the many symbols of the Confederacy all over the south, from those ever-present flags to enormous, expensive statues. Early on, the authors’ claim that “modern historians’ near unanimous agreement that slavery was the central cause of the conflict,” might be seen as a simplification of the fundamental divide between the Founding Fathers, as exemplified in Thomas Jefferson’s belief that the new republic ought to be a nation of yeoman farmers, and Alexander Hamilton, who saw the republic’s future success lying in manufacturing and trade, or industry. The point that most historians I’ve read caution moderns to keep in mind is that slavery was fundamental to Jefferson’s romantic yeoman farm dream, for as those early pilgrims and explorers discovered, somebody has to do the backbreaking work of turning land into food, homes, cities. And Jefferson was A-okay with that work being done by slaves; meanwhile, the north was moving firmly away from slavery as it became industrialized. This divide only grew as the republic grew. For this book, the authors focus in on the history of Charleston, which was the largest center of the slave trade. They begin with the history of Denmark Vesey, a slave who managed to win his freedom in a lottery, but who couldn’t afford to free his family. Desperate and angry at a system that guaranteed him no justice or rights, he organized an uprising that resulted in the arrest of over a hundred slaves, many of whom were tortured, and thirty-four (along with Vesey) executed. Thereafter comes a grim history of policing slaves in case of real, or even imagined, slave risings. Slaves could be punished or killed for imagined “crimes”—the only problem being that their labor is lost. Slaves outnumbered whites by a margin, increasing white fears of slave revolt, and so governmentally sanctioned groups as well as local lynch mobs roamed around seeking “uppity” slaves. Not all landowners were vicious on the surface. Washington, Jefferson, and Madison all talked up slavery as a benevolent system, positing the (white) male owner as father, and slaves as permanent children. According to the authors, James Henry Hammond, after seeing to it that petitions about slavery were declined by the Congressional House of Representatives, wrote in a masterpiece of hypocrisy, “Our patriarchal scene of domestic servitude is indeed well calculated to awaken the higher and finer feelings of our nature.” Easy to feel benevolent when you are waited on hand and foot by silent, submissive slaves! That sense of superiority comes to life in the early chapter, as the story of the Civil War is summarized from the black Charlestonian point of view, ending with snide, superior, and horrified newspaper accounts of blacks being able to congregate in places that had previous been reserved to whites, such as the race track and public parks. So began the difficulties of Reconstruction. The authors’ careful, well-documented account can be summed up by the reflection that white politicians were forced to accept that black people could now vote. And so the Jim Crow era began, as money and effort was spent on erecting monuments to famous Southerners such as Calhoun, in salute to the once-glorious past. Subsequent chapters illustrate how nostalgia for those gracious and chivalric days before the Civil War lived on after those who lived through it began dying off, as for blacks, segregation deepened and sharpened—which included divisions among African American citizens. The authors also delve, with plentiful personal accounts, into the problem of teaching, distortion of, and erasure of black history. Some of the erasure was not due to whites covering up what’s inconvenient in extolling their grand view of the chivalric pre-Civil War South: many older blacks did not want their progeny hearing about their lives as slaves, or poking into their roots, deeply buried as they were in slavery. Meanwhile, as tourism was on the rise during the early twentieth century, tourists were treated to white-written fictions about the faithful, loyal “mammy” and other sanitized views of the past. But counter to those, scholars and artists of various sorts began to delve into history to find the truth; the spirituals the blacks sang were hailed as a remarkable form of music in their own right, and at least one scholar studied Gullah, the slaves’ own language, which mixed English and African vocabulary. Meanwhile groups rose who performed black music—which included whites. The authors takes some time with the vexed question of how primary sources are handled when gathering information. The authors furnish plenty of data on the manner in which early scholars obtained oral accounts from aging former slaves; leading questions being one issue, and another, these frail elderly folk out of sheer self-preservation telling these white visitors what they wanted to hear, and not necessarily the truth. The second half of the book illustrates the difficulties of ending segregation, and the cultural and social cost as well as the political and economic, spinning out in eddies around symbols, such as the portrait of Denmark Vesey to hang in City Hall. This struggle in the mid-seventies, a handful of years after the school system finally agreed that American History from the black point of view might be worth of study, exemplified the fractures that reach back to those early days. Meanwhile, black tourism was on the rise, which meant a strong interest in black history, which dovetails into celebrations and reenactments. The authors wind up the account by bringing it back to Dylann Roof’s cold-blooded massacre, and Denmark Vesey’s place in history, acknowledging that though tour guides now speak frankly about the black’ slave experience—unheard of a decade or two ago—it’s clear that someone like Roof can stand at the terminus of the Middle Passage and not see the site of so much human suffering, but a place that once trumpeted the dominance of the whites. It’s a terrific book, academically sound, full of quotations from primary sources, and indicative of how far the city of Charleston has come, but how far it still needs to go. The last third is entirely notes and an impressive bibliography. Copy provided by NetGalley

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Thoughts soon.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Porter Broyles

    Five years ago a tragedy occurred in Charleston S.C. A white supremacist Dylan Roof walked into one of the oldest black churches and murdered 9 people. While I had majored in history at college, it had been years since I had seriously read history. After the shooting, the role of the Battle Flag was thrust into the public eye. Many living in former Confederate States were claiming that the flag held and older purer understanding than what the media and rest of the Country thought it meant; peopl Five years ago a tragedy occurred in Charleston S.C. A white supremacist Dylan Roof walked into one of the oldest black churches and murdered 9 people. While I had majored in history at college, it had been years since I had seriously read history. After the shooting, the role of the Battle Flag was thrust into the public eye. Many living in former Confederate States were claiming that the flag held and older purer understanding than what the media and rest of the Country thought it meant; people claiming that’s real intention had been usurped by White Supremacist. I wanted to better understand the subject so I picked up The Confederate Nation, 1861-1865. I liked that book, but realized that I did not have the knowledge to appreciate or understand its nuisances. This created an insatiable appetite for knowledge that has continued to this day. I am not going to say that this is the best book I've ever read, but considering the fact that the author starts from the same point that I started---trying to understand Dylan Roof and the subsequent controversies---I think the author does an excellent job at presenting the myriad of facts and history. The book focuses on Charleston which adds an element to the story that keeps it fresh and interesting. Many of the overarching ideas/concepts I was familiar with, but the local flavor adds to it. It really takes off when it starts talking about modern Charleston and the imagery therein. As a person with an interest in flags, I particularly enjoyed the history behind this flag: https://www.aljazeera.com/mritems/ima...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Darcia Helle

    Of the countless books covering the Civil War and slavery, many of which I've read, I don't know of a single one that so perfectly shows us the humanity - and inhumanity - of it all from a southern perspective. This book is exceptionally well researched and well written. It's not at all 'text book dry', but instead comes alive with the sights and sounds of the south. The focus is on one city, Charleston, South Carolina, which is essentially where it all began. This narrow focus manages to encomp Of the countless books covering the Civil War and slavery, many of which I've read, I don't know of a single one that so perfectly shows us the humanity - and inhumanity - of it all from a southern perspective. This book is exceptionally well researched and well written. It's not at all 'text book dry', but instead comes alive with the sights and sounds of the south. The focus is on one city, Charleston, South Carolina, which is essentially where it all began. This narrow focus manages to encompass the crux of the war; before, during, and after. Here we see how and why the US came away with two opposing views of what caused this war, what we were fighting for and about, and what it all means to us today. I was born and raised in the Northeast, at the time when Black Americans were fighting for equality and desegregation in the south. As a young child, I didn't know racism was "a thing". I had no idea that the black family at the table beside us at a restaurant would not have those same rights in a southern town. I couldn't fathom such a world as a child, and I had no reason to imagine it. During my early teens, as we learned about the Civil War, we were taught, without question, that it was about slavery. Then, I moved to the south, and suddenly I see rebel flags and my children were being taught that the Civil War was about States' rights, not slavery. (In my mind, the two issues are essentially the same thing, with the southern states wanting the right to own slaves, but what do I know?) That was my first exposure to the opposing views, and I didn't understand it at all. This book captures it perfectly, from beginning to end, showing the struggle from both the white and black perspectives, so that I now understand the division in ways I never had before. This country is fractured. This book gives us tremendous insight into where the fracture began and why it persists. *The publisher provided me with a review copy, via Amazon Vine.*

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jim Marshall

    Denmarck Vesey was a free black man living in antebellum Charleston, South Carolina in the 1820’s. He had a job and a few resources, but he was fiercely angry about the slavery that poisoned the lives of his fellow blacks. And so in 1822 he used his meager earnings to buy weapons in the hopes of beginning a slave rebellion that would spread quickly, much like the one that John Brown planned 30 years later. His small conspiracy was soon discovered, however, the conspirators were killed, and Denma Denmarck Vesey was a free black man living in antebellum Charleston, South Carolina in the 1820’s. He had a job and a few resources, but he was fiercely angry about the slavery that poisoned the lives of his fellow blacks. And so in 1822 he used his meager earnings to buy weapons in the hopes of beginning a slave rebellion that would spread quickly, much like the one that John Brown planned 30 years later. His small conspiracy was soon discovered, however, the conspirators were killed, and Denmarck Vesey himself was publicly executed. But his name and story lived on in Charleston, as a cautionary tale to white slave owners and as a model of resistance to the blacks who were to remain in slavery for another 40 years. The good white people of antebellum Charleston were not overly endowed with moral intelligence, but they could count. Blacks, most of them slaves, outnumbered whites by a factor of nine to one from 1800 until at least emancipation in the low country. The idea of an armed slave rebellion was for several reasons a recurring nightmare for the white population, especially for those wealthy enough to own slaves. First, of course, that population understood that they would probably lose their lives in such a rebellion. But they also knew that they would lose their wealth since most of that wealth was embodied in the slaves that they traded, raped, and overworked to maintain their life style. Slaves, in other words, not only produced wealth for their owners, they were themselves a form of human currency. Denmarck Vesey’s Garden is a remarkably insightful and detailed history of slavery as seen through the very specific lens of Charleston’s white and black populations. It moves from the late 18th century, by which time Charleston had become the largest slave-trading center in America, through the Civil War when Charleston lost its wealth, to Reconstruction, the long Jim Crow era, the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, all the way to the Obama administration. It is a complicated and tortured history, but what makes the book worth reading is that it documents how the city’s leaders, newspapers, intellectuals, and citizens spent more than 150 years denying that its actual history was real. Through multiple acts of willful amnesia, erasure, and outright deceit, the city of Charleston literally whitewashed its fierce commitment to slavery and its long abuse of black citizens. Most of Charleston’s history of itself is, in other words, a carefully crafted fantasy that has more in common with Disney World than with the lives people actually lived there. The revisionist history began, of course, with the need for money. The Civil War was not kind to Charleston. The Union Army never forgot that the war began in the Charleston harbor when Confederate soldiers fired at Fort Sumter or that South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union. So it seemed to take special care to attack the city as vigorously as possible. Union ships fired on Charleston almost continuously throughout the conflict. Houses were burned or otherwise destroyed, public buildings and private businesses were left in ruins, the slaves were freed, and Confederate currency was rendered worthless. From the end of the Civil War until the end of Reconstruction in 1876, whites were almost as poor as blacks and were no more likely to hold political office than their former slaves. All that ended however, when Union soldiers left the south—a moment that the south called “Redemption.” Blacks were stripped of their right to vote, arbitrarily arrested, tethered to jobs without compensation as punishment, and, of course, lynched with horrifying frequency. But that didn’t solve the money problem. To address that issue, Charleston had to cast off its reputation as the Wall Street of slave sales and reinvent itself as a “lost cause” theme park. Starting in the 1890’s, tourism became the major industry. Homes were rebuilt, sometimes with cheap materials, to resemble the look of the Old South. Some lucky blacks were hired to serve as token “darkies” in the streets and on the rehabilitated, but unproductive plantations. They told scripted stories of how happy they had been as slaves and how kindly their masters had treated them. The map of the city was changed. What was the center of the slave trade, the centrally located Ryan’s Market, was erased from the city’s grid. It had never existed. The slave quarters that were a part of every plantation and many of the large houses in town became “carriage houses.” Slaves were actually “servants.” And the cause of the Civil War was never slavery. It was about states’ rights, about freedom of choice, about honoring community and tradition, about old time religion, and about protecting and supporting the poor, illiterate black people who couldn’t really look out for themselves. The revisionist project was the work of many hands. In order to protect the young, history textbooks had to be re-written by southern scholars, many of them sons and daughters of confederate veterans, who would tell the truth about slavery, about the Civil War, and later about Jim Crow. Newspapers were at pains to make black crime, ignorance, and sexual danger as visible as possible. Tours of the city and the surrounding plantations always emphasized the period before the Civil War. In Charleston, it was as if history stopped in 1861. Beginning in 1910, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of South Carolina’s secession from the Union, white Charleston held its first annual “Secession Ball” at which women dressed in southern belle fashions complete with parasols while men wore plantation era suits, and all drank mint juleps in quantity. Blacks in white jackets were allowed to serve. Some white social clubs, nostalgic for the old days of contented slaves, sought to revive the musical spirituals that blacks had created in their communities as a stay against despair. Those spirituals were in fact, beginning to be forgotten because they had seldom been written down and even more seldom set to written music. So the white clubs learned the words from their servants and wrote down the music as their servants sang them, and then gave concerts around town, again dressed in plantation chic. These social clubs had names, of course—the Daughters of the Confederacy, the Sons of the Confederacy, and perhaps the most chilling, the “Children of the Confederacy.” In meetings of the latter, children beginning at about the age of 8 would be told to memorize answers from “The Confederate Catechism” (2014), a copy of which I was able to easily find on the web. This review is going long, so I’m only going to quote one question and answer. “Was slavery the cause of secession or the war?” “No. Slavery existed previous to the Constitution and the Union was formed in spite of it. Both from the standpoint of the Constitution and sound statesmanship it was not slavery, but the vindictive, intemperate anti-slavery movement that was at the bottom of the troubles. The North having formed a union with a lot of States inheriting slavery, common honesty dictated that it should respect the institutions of the South, or, in the case of a change of conscience, should secede from the Union. But it did neither. Having possessed itself of the Federal Government, it set up abolition as it’s particular champion, made war upon the South, freed the Negroes without regard to time or consequences, and held the South as conquered.” Over the last ten years (roughly corresponding to the election of a black person as president), Charleston has become much more inclusive in the stories it tells about itself. The slave trading center that for a 100 years had never existed can now be visited, bus tours can be taken that focus on the African-American experience in the city, and concerts can now be heard where African-Americans themselves sing the spirituals that their forbearers created. Still, Charleston is a place where one can study how history really is a story that can always be revised. This book is a good place to begin that study.

  6. 4 out of 5

    M. J.

    The best educational read I have ever consumed. The authors produce factual and detailed revelations of how the narrative of slavery in American history was developed. This novel explains the author's discovery of how the cradle of America's slave imports to the city Charleston South Carolina has a warped and unrecognizable perception of slavery. They present the origins of slavery and its impact beginning with Denmark Vessy's attempted slave uprising which had fueled the perceptions and fears of The best educational read I have ever consumed. The authors produce factual and detailed revelations of how the narrative of slavery in American history was developed. This novel explains the author's discovery of how the cradle of America's slave imports to the city Charleston South Carolina has a warped and unrecognizable perception of slavery. They present the origins of slavery and its impact beginning with Denmark Vessy's attempted slave uprising which had fueled the perceptions and fears of African-Americans allowing a country of immigrants to turn a blind eye as African_ American Citizens were never considered since before America was formed. "Throughout the existence of humanity, the dominant cultures write the history to their advantage applauding their victorious battles to honor their dead with speeches of gallantry." The American Civil War's Confederate Army lost a war yet its supporters to this day revere its losing Generals with state holidays in Virginia, Alabama, and Mississippi, while never admitting, describing, or acknowledging Slavery as one of the pillars for the war. The authors repeatedly identify's the US Government's lack of and failure to assist and support the fundamental human rights for African-Americans which reveals our current racial problems. This novel amazingly explains why and how the incredible Gulf of perception and understanding between White American's and African-Americans about race in America has developed under the guise of education. Please complete this novel, to develop a better understanding of race in America and pass it on to as many people as possible.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    Really good. A must read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Cleveland

    A thought provoking work. Perhaps a little disjointed at times but overall certainly worth the effort. I think I found the summary statements the most influential ... “We should not be expected to reject our ancestors for their moral failings. And we certainly should not be held responsible for their actions. This does not give us license, however, to turn a blind eye to our forebesrs’ flaws or the complexity of the world in which they lived ... while it is unfair to ask white Americans today to A thought provoking work. Perhaps a little disjointed at times but overall certainly worth the effort. I think I found the summary statements the most influential ... “We should not be expected to reject our ancestors for their moral failings. And we certainly should not be held responsible for their actions. This does not give us license, however, to turn a blind eye to our forebesrs’ flaws or the complexity of the world in which they lived ... while it is unfair to ask white Americans today to accept blame for the sin of slavery, it is entirely reasonable to ask that they understand how its memory and legacies continue to shape the daily experiences of whites and African Americans in very different ways.”

  9. 4 out of 5

    Robin Kirk

    It may seem odd to call a book "riveting," but that's what this is, a riveting account of the disputes over memory in Charleston, SC. Disclaimer: I'm interested in the subject. But the authors have done an excellent job making their case about the way Lost Cause nostalgia has warped the way we tell stories of the past. They bring the history right up to the present day, with the murders in Mother Emanuel, the decision to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol and continuing controver It may seem odd to call a book "riveting," but that's what this is, a riveting account of the disputes over memory in Charleston, SC. Disclaimer: I'm interested in the subject. But the authors have done an excellent job making their case about the way Lost Cause nostalgia has warped the way we tell stories of the past. They bring the history right up to the present day, with the murders in Mother Emanuel, the decision to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol and continuing controversy over the Calhoun statue. To get a deeper sense of the monuments debate, this is an essential read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    Admittedly, this was a difficult book for me to read. Not because it isn't well written - it is. The subject certainly needs to be openly discussed since South Carolina history (and other former Confederate states) have basically been 'white-washed' into a delusion that plantation owners were benevolent, paternal figures that worked to civilize the African 'servants' cause they didn't own slaves. From the Reconstruction with the Lost Cause that venerated the Confederacy that was only fighting fo Admittedly, this was a difficult book for me to read. Not because it isn't well written - it is. The subject certainly needs to be openly discussed since South Carolina history (and other former Confederate states) have basically been 'white-washed' into a delusion that plantation owners were benevolent, paternal figures that worked to civilize the African 'servants' cause they didn't own slaves. From the Reconstruction with the Lost Cause that venerated the Confederacy that was only fighting for the state's rights and the staunch supporters of the benevolent good of slavery to the twenty-first century and the continued work in equal rights for all the residents. That's what is all about - the cultural blinders that Charleston and the nearby areas completely encouraged. The black slaves were faithful and happy with their antebellum masters. That Rhode Island merchants were the ones that brought the slaves to South Carolina plantations which took them in and trained them in various skills that would help eventually help integrate them into southern society. Talking about the plantations as gardens. That slavery was slowly being erased from the state's history. Not the same opinion came from the former slaves and their descendants. The festivals that followed their freedom. Their true feelings about their 'masters'. The truth about what happened in the building which now houses the Old Slave Market Museum. The teaching of black history in segregated schools and the Jim Crow laws that piled restrictions onto the African American population. As the 1960's and the civil rights movement gained momentum, the two worlds clashed and are slowly changing. Tourists that originally traveled to find the South celebrated by the blockbuster Gone With the Wind eventually wanted to see a more-truthful memory of Charleston. And it's still a work in progress especially since the book starts and ends with the attack performed by Dylann Roof on the congregation of the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in 2015. An interesting and riveting book that was well-researched. 2020-062

  11. 5 out of 5

    Carol Storm

    This book is so much more than a history of Charleston, South Carolina. It's the most insightful book I've ever read about historical memory and race in America. Nearly every chapter was so fascinating it could have been a book in its own right. I wanted to hear so much more about Denmark Vesey, the Society for the Preservation of Spirituals, and almost every other topic that was discussed. This book is so much more than a history of Charleston, South Carolina. It's the most insightful book I've ever read about historical memory and race in America. Nearly every chapter was so fascinating it could have been a book in its own right. I wanted to hear so much more about Denmark Vesey, the Society for the Preservation of Spirituals, and almost every other topic that was discussed.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ted Hunt

    I wrongly assumed that this book was going to be primarily about the history of Denmark Vesey and the slave rebellion that he intended to lead in the early 1820's. While the book does make reference to that event, this is a study of historiography, not simply history. The authors, who lived in Charleston, South Carolina for two years, have written a book that examines the institution of slavery as it existed in that city and, more importantly, the historical memory of Charleston concerning the c I wrongly assumed that this book was going to be primarily about the history of Denmark Vesey and the slave rebellion that he intended to lead in the early 1820's. While the book does make reference to that event, this is a study of historiography, not simply history. The authors, who lived in Charleston, South Carolina for two years, have written a book that examines the institution of slavery as it existed in that city and, more importantly, the historical memory of Charleston concerning the characteristics of slavery and the meaning of the Civil War (which began right there at Fort Sumter). The book does a n excellent job of presenting the contributions of Charleston to the creation and perpetuation of the entire "Lost Cause" myth through the way that it has chosen to mark and commemorate its history. It contains a great many very enlightening vignettes, from the story of the white singing group that claimed sole ownership of the right to perform slave spirituals to the way that the Federal Writers Project in the 1930's recorded the memories of former Charleston slaves to the transformation of the presentation of Charleston's history that came about during, and because of, the modern civil rights movement. The book takes the reader right into the present and the current debates over the Confederate flag and Confederate memorials. Indeed, the authors were visiting Charleston to wrap up their research on the night in 2015 that Dylan Roof massacred the people at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church. The photographic image of the John Calhoun memorial overlooking that church's spire really sums up the challenges that Charleston continues to face. My only complaint about the book is that it was very narrowly focused on that one city, and did not always connect Charleston's story to a bigger picture. It was strange that in a 350 page book set in South Carolina, Strom Thurmond only got one brief mention. But this is a minor quibble about a very powerful book that really illustrates William Faulkner's quote: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    An excellent micro-history on Charleston’s 150 year struggle to come to grips with its prominent role in slavery, slave trading and post Civil War racism. It begins with Denmark Vesey’s revolt forty years before the Civil War and continues to contemporary times. There are so many interesting details in this book. Very well researched. Footnote. This book contains several chapters on the slave owner and politician John C. Calhoun who died in 1850 and the prominent monument dedicated to him in 189 An excellent micro-history on Charleston’s 150 year struggle to come to grips with its prominent role in slavery, slave trading and post Civil War racism. It begins with Denmark Vesey’s revolt forty years before the Civil War and continues to contemporary times. There are so many interesting details in this book. Very well researched. Footnote. This book contains several chapters on the slave owner and politician John C. Calhoun who died in 1850 and the prominent monument dedicated to him in 1896 during the rise of Jim Crow. In June 2020 the monument was taken down, just a few months after this book was published. 5 stars

  14. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Corbett

    An extraordinary look at the real South and the American memory. This book explains so much about ails us.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jodi Bash

    An incredible work of history. Highlighting Charleston as an example city in the white washing of this history of slavery that has led to decades of racism and the correlation to an increase in hate crimes and even the election of Donald Trump. So well done. This should be REQUIRED reading in classrooms across the country and especially in the south where I live. Also covers the African American spiritual in much detail, the confederate monument backlash of recent years, devastating effects of y An incredible work of history. Highlighting Charleston as an example city in the white washing of this history of slavery that has led to decades of racism and the correlation to an increase in hate crimes and even the election of Donald Trump. So well done. This should be REQUIRED reading in classrooms across the country and especially in the south where I live. Also covers the African American spiritual in much detail, the confederate monument backlash of recent years, devastating effects of years of mis-education in the South.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Gloria

    The focus is on Charleston SC, the port that brought in more new slaves than any other city and the home of Fort Sumter where the American Civil War began. Told by Caucasian authors, this is a summary of shifting perspectives and politics in regard to slavery that covers prevailing opinions from before the war up until present times. The primary focus is on white citizens who originally defended slavery and then had to shape the dialogue after the war as they rebuilt their community and documente The focus is on Charleston SC, the port that brought in more new slaves than any other city and the home of Fort Sumter where the American Civil War began. Told by Caucasian authors, this is a summary of shifting perspectives and politics in regard to slavery that covers prevailing opinions from before the war up until present times. The primary focus is on white citizens who originally defended slavery and then had to shape the dialogue after the war as they rebuilt their community and documented their history. This covers a broad spectrum of ways to talk about the war and slavery. Were they just 'servants' and were the slaves cared for. When did the Jim Crow laws begin? Why did white people perform and preserve the old spirituals and why were African Americans left out of this valuable historical step? Why were black citizens not more involved in documentary history until many decades after the war? There is a lot to cover in 150 years and these authors did not include much about modern race issues and the Great Migration though there is a final summary that includes the 2015 shooting in the Emanuel Episcopal Church by a white terrorist. What it does well is show how both blacks and whites adapted to major upheavals in both positive and negative ways. It carefully segues through the decades to show how racism is alive and well today. This is a different kind of book about slavery as it works to delve into the thought processes of ordinary people in a new and rapidly changing country.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    Easily one of the most important books I've ever read. This book explains the history of Charleston in terms of racial inequalities and highlights the significance of the city and race relations in terms of US history. I'm incredibly grateful to have had this book recommended to me. Easily one of the most important books I've ever read. This book explains the history of Charleston in terms of racial inequalities and highlights the significance of the city and race relations in terms of US history. I'm incredibly grateful to have had this book recommended to me.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    This is a review of the audiobook. Kytle and Roberts (a white married couple (Blain Roberts is a woman), I looked it up because the ancedote that begins the book discusses a "we" looking to rent a home in Charleston) focus on a narrow topic, the memory of slavery and the confederacy in Charleston, over a long stretch of time, from the last days of the civil war up until the present day and the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The book tries to cover both white and Black me This is a review of the audiobook. Kytle and Roberts (a white married couple (Blain Roberts is a woman), I looked it up because the ancedote that begins the book discusses a "we" looking to rent a home in Charleston) focus on a narrow topic, the memory of slavery and the confederacy in Charleston, over a long stretch of time, from the last days of the civil war up until the present day and the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The book tries to cover both white and Black memories of slavery and how those memories were transmitted, but it felt like the sections on the dominant, white narrative predominated and were stronger. Whether that was a result of the fact that the authors are white, or because the historical record is more developed in terms of what white folks were doing, I'm not sure, but in any event, the denial/gaslighting/whitewashing of history that the white community in Charleston participated is fascinating in its own right, and so the book is valuable even if it didn't do as thorough of a job describing the memory of slavery among Charleston's Black population. Almost immediately after the end of the Civil War, Charleston became a destination for (largely white) tourists to visit to experience the center of the United State's slave trade. The keepers of that history that presented it to those tourists were white, and often descended from slave owners. The book does a deep dive into the history of spiritual singing groups in Charleston. Unbelievably, the sons and daughters of enslavers who had grown up on plantations before the Civil War founded and participated in these groups of all-white singers who catered to tourists. These shows depicted a romanticized and sanitized image of slavery and did much to popularize the genre of music throughout the country while removing the meaning related to the struggle of living under slavery and hope for emancipation. There were some white spiritual enthusiasts who promoted Black singers as well, but for decades, white spiritual groups dominated popular culture's understanding of spiritual music. Perhaps more directly relevant to the current debate over confederate monuments, the book discusses the history of monuments to John C. Calhoun--which from the beginning was seen as a symbol of pro-slavery, white supremacy. All in all, it's an important read for anyone wanting to understand why it seems like this country has a split perception of its own history.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Frank Karpiel

    This is a superb study of the whitewashing of slavery, the Confederacy, post-Reconstruction Southern leaders (Redeemers), and Jim Crow laws in American memory, specifically relating to Charleston, South Carolina. It's admirable for its in-depth research, readability, and the ways it brings little known people--black and white--to the forefront of the narrative. It also highlights sources that have not been quoted in depth before--offering details of life in Charleston in the years after the Civi This is a superb study of the whitewashing of slavery, the Confederacy, post-Reconstruction Southern leaders (Redeemers), and Jim Crow laws in American memory, specifically relating to Charleston, South Carolina. It's admirable for its in-depth research, readability, and the ways it brings little known people--black and white--to the forefront of the narrative. It also highlights sources that have not been quoted in depth before--offering details of life in Charleston in the years after the Civil War, especially the joyous ceremonies and celebrations that African-American created to commemorate their new freedoms, and the spirited political battles of the era. Denmark Vesey's Garden is a history monograph by two history professors and so it includes hundreds of footnotes, references, and impressive bibliography backing up its scholarly claims. But it also offers a plentitude of numbing detail about long-ago public events like political rallies, and public commemorations with long quotes from participants speeches, newspaper articles discussing the speeches, followed by authorial analysis of the same. One of the reasons for reliance on discussing ceremonies, speeches and other formal occasions along with newspaper articles describing them is that these comprise the surviving primary source material for the era. The authors skillfully weave together a thesis that illustrates how post-Civil War Southern elites--political, literary, and artistic--created and sold version of slavery that not only defiantly lied about the realities of this brutal institution, but actively repressed African-American participation in post 1876 society throughout the South. It is this white elite narrative that formed the basis of how slavery, the Reconstruction, and the repressive Jim Crow era was described in American popular media and taught in classrooms until late in the 20th century. The final sections of Denmark Vesey's Garden describe the Civil Rights movement and African American efforts to counter this whitewashed narrative. They are among the most interesting and thought-provoking parts of the work, which ends in the aftermath of the mass murder at Mother Emanuel AME church in 2015.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    This book is excellent at its stated purpose of tracing the development of the Lost Cause memory of the Civil War in Charleston, South Carolina. It does that very effectively through with a detailed history of the efforts to downplay slavery's cruelties and to emphasize a more palatable story for white residents and tourists. There were times when the absurdity of these efforts was so obvious that I literally laughed out loud, like (view spoiler)[ when the tour guides would claim that basically This book is excellent at its stated purpose of tracing the development of the Lost Cause memory of the Civil War in Charleston, South Carolina. It does that very effectively through with a detailed history of the efforts to downplay slavery's cruelties and to emphasize a more palatable story for white residents and tourists. There were times when the absurdity of these efforts was so obvious that I literally laughed out loud, like (view spoiler)[ when the tour guides would claim that basically no slaves were ever auctioned in Charleston, unlike "over there in New Orleans"(view spoiler)[. The hypocrisy and projection were so clear in those moments that no explanation was needed for why those memories or arguments were suspect. However, overall the book sticks to its agenda so closely and presumes a level of knowledge of contemporary research that I think many readers would be left wondering where exactly the Lost Cause histories go astray and how we know it. In some chapters, this extra work is done, for example in the chapter where Frederic Bancroft research was detailed or the interviews of former slaves during the Great Depression. At other times, I could draw on things I'd learned from The Half has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist or Black Reconstruction by W.E.B. Dubois and realize the contradictions, but other readers might not be able to tell where exactly the Lost Cause histories misrepresented reality. Again, for its purpose this is a five star book, but don't read it as your first book on the subject of slavery and the Civil War. (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)]

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Primarily set in the context of how slavery is remembered in Charleston, SC, this is a well researched and densely written history of how the white citizens and descendants of Confederates and the black citizens and descendants of slaves remember history, and the resulting effect on their city, state, and the country. It is particularly compelling in showing what a struggle it was to bring the black version of the story to the surface, given that white remembrance was the dominant version for so Primarily set in the context of how slavery is remembered in Charleston, SC, this is a well researched and densely written history of how the white citizens and descendants of Confederates and the black citizens and descendants of slaves remember history, and the resulting effect on their city, state, and the country. It is particularly compelling in showing what a struggle it was to bring the black version of the story to the surface, given that white remembrance was the dominant version for so many years. I consider myself fairly well read in this topic, but there was plenty to learn. For the most part, the authors are faithful to their research and as faithful as possible to history. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is trying to increase their understanding of the Civil War as well as current race relations. My only quibble is a slight tendency in the book for "conservative" to be conflated with "white supremacist," and "progressive" with "not racist" which, while a common practice in our current political climate, I find to be inaccurate and unhelpful in terms of fostering better communication.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Mae

    This is the kind of book that seemed totally made for me. It was a real joy to read. The prose held up throughout (which is something I'm concerned with when I read history books), and I learned so much from its pages. Charleston is my favorite city. I love it so much, and I love its people. This book starts with the horrible shooting at Mother Emanuel Church, and that hit home hard for me even though I wasn't currently living in Charleston. Framing a history of Charleston around it's slave lega This is the kind of book that seemed totally made for me. It was a real joy to read. The prose held up throughout (which is something I'm concerned with when I read history books), and I learned so much from its pages. Charleston is my favorite city. I love it so much, and I love its people. This book starts with the horrible shooting at Mother Emanuel Church, and that hit home hard for me even though I wasn't currently living in Charleston. Framing a history of Charleston around it's slave legacy and the way the city viewed it was fascinating. I kept checking the footnotes and formed a reading list to tackle to get even more info on the topic. Though this is an excellent read for a Charleston lover like me, it also makes for a microcosm of slavery, Lost Cause mythology, and racism in the South in general. The book traces the many filters the question of slavery has been put through over the past few centuries, and how it's evolved and been remembered. Highly recommend for the history buff!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Christe

    Four stars for reporting material not usually covered and/or focused in this way. This is a history of the role and pubic presentation of slavery in Charleston. The bulk of the book recounts how whites portrayed and fictionalized slavery in Charleston from 1877 up to now (though with significant shift towards facts after 1980 or so). The passion with which the myth of the "lost cause"and the faithful mammy," was created and promulgated, the denial that there was ever active slave trading in Char Four stars for reporting material not usually covered and/or focused in this way. This is a history of the role and pubic presentation of slavery in Charleston. The bulk of the book recounts how whites portrayed and fictionalized slavery in Charleston from 1877 up to now (though with significant shift towards facts after 1980 or so). The passion with which the myth of the "lost cause"and the faithful mammy," was created and promulgated, the denial that there was ever active slave trading in Charleston, along with the concept that slavery was actually benevolent and that it all came from Rhode Island slave traders and that it would have been phased out in the south soon anyway if the south had just been let alone (the contradictions in these ideas not a problem, apparently) is astonishing and vividly reported. The flaw of the book, for me, lies with the tendency, all too frequent among enthusiastic academics, to believe that if the authors have 40 notecards, they need to use all 40 of them, whereas 15 might made their case quite as well.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Melinda

    A fascinating, if disturbing, account of how the South - epitomized by Charleston, SC - deliberately rewrote the history of slavery and the Civil War for racial and political purposes. Generations of white South Carolinians were literally taught and experienced an alternate history of the period. Looking back on my own education, I realize the rest of the country wasn't immune from these blatant fabrications either. As a westerner and 3rd generation European America, I can snicker at the deliber A fascinating, if disturbing, account of how the South - epitomized by Charleston, SC - deliberately rewrote the history of slavery and the Civil War for racial and political purposes. Generations of white South Carolinians were literally taught and experienced an alternate history of the period. Looking back on my own education, I realize the rest of the country wasn't immune from these blatant fabrications either. As a westerner and 3rd generation European America, I can snicker at the deliberate lies of the southerners with their "Lost Cause" rhetoric, but I think it becomes harder to point fingers only at the south as time marched on. At lease the south was up-front about its racist intentions, while the rest of the country tries to pretend they didn't (and still don't) behave in a similar manner. Charleston appears to be taking steps to promote a more accurate account of its racial history, which should be a model for the rest of country.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Clazzzer C

    South Carolina in the United States of America was the heart of slavery. It is where half the slaved brought to the USA disembarked from the slave traders' vessels. There in South Carolina the first shots of the civil war were fired and nine people were murdered at the church which was co founded by Denmark Vesey, the black slave who plotted an uprising of slaves in 1822. This book provides fabulous insight into some of the controversies that still exist today and that many of us outside of this South Carolina in the United States of America was the heart of slavery. It is where half the slaved brought to the USA disembarked from the slave traders' vessels. There in South Carolina the first shots of the civil war were fired and nine people were murdered at the church which was co founded by Denmark Vesey, the black slave who plotted an uprising of slaves in 1822. This book provides fabulous insight into some of the controversies that still exist today and that many of us outside of this jurisdiction would be totally unaware of. This shows us how slavery has been portrayed in the deep south since the American Civil war, it is not a history of slavery. It tells of so many of the deluded misconceptions or down right lies in which people condone and even praise slavery and those who instigated and promoted it. This is a very worthwhile read. It is enlightening and shocking in equal measure. I highly recommend it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    So basically after reading this book I felt like an idiot. 🤷🏽‍♀️ I mean I guess a lot of us just accept the education we were taught as youth and let it ride.... but we shouldn’t. This book not only brought Southern/Charleston’s history to a totally new light for me but explained the exact reason why we haven’t known more in past. Money money money money... The other realization that hit me over the head over and over were the words I could hear my Father and Grandmother saying to me often... hi So basically after reading this book I felt like an idiot. 🤷🏽‍♀️ I mean I guess a lot of us just accept the education we were taught as youth and let it ride.... but we shouldn’t. This book not only brought Southern/Charleston’s history to a totally new light for me but explained the exact reason why we haven’t known more in past. Money money money money... The other realization that hit me over the head over and over were the words I could hear my Father and Grandmother saying to me often... history does repeat itself. SOOOOO many thing happening in this present time that mimic the exact same situations 150 years ago in the country! Ughhhh will humans ever learn, or do the new generations just have to relearn everything for themselves? I hope that there will finally be some change that might stick. Please God! I urge all concerned citizens to read this book to hear how our black brother and sisters need help to continue to rise.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lorraine McCleary

    A well written and comprehensive book on Charleston, SC from slavery to present day as a microcosm of the civil war and post war civil rights. Sherman referred to Charleston as the "cesspool of session", and indeed it seems so. After the war, Southern White elites rewrote the history of slavery "ie they were only servants, not slaves, R.I. was really responsible for slavery as they had a large early slave trade, the slave market didn't really exist in Charleston, the good and loyal servant story A well written and comprehensive book on Charleston, SC from slavery to present day as a microcosm of the civil war and post war civil rights. Sherman referred to Charleston as the "cesspool of session", and indeed it seems so. After the war, Southern White elites rewrote the history of slavery "ie they were only servants, not slaves, R.I. was really responsible for slavery as they had a large early slave trade, the slave market didn't really exist in Charleston, the good and loyal servant story or how the blacks were so well cared for that they became civilized under slavery instead of savages ie. "We always were good to our slaves", the glorification of the plantations ie Gone with the Wind, magnolias and Roses... A must read for all Americans as this is the basis for a lot of White Supremacist hogwash.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jane Considine

    The authors have done very thorough research regarding Charleston's relationship with slavery and slave-trading, and its long history of constructing a romanticized view of antebellum South. I have wanted to visit Charleston for reasons that I realize now I can't quite identify; perhaps I was seduced by the efforts Charleston promoters put into developing a tourism business that focused "history" but completely ignored the role that slave-trading had in creating the economy that supported beauti The authors have done very thorough research regarding Charleston's relationship with slavery and slave-trading, and its long history of constructing a romanticized view of antebellum South. I have wanted to visit Charleston for reasons that I realize now I can't quite identify; perhaps I was seduced by the efforts Charleston promoters put into developing a tourism business that focused "history" but completely ignored the role that slave-trading had in creating the economy that supported beautiful homes, genteel lifestyle, etc. I think I would still like to visit Charleston, but now my eyes are open.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Hunter McCleary

    It really is amazing the lengths people go to to craft a narrative that fits the "facts" they were raised on. One of the funnier ones in the book was blaming Rhode Island for southern adoption of slavery. All in all, a real head-shaker. And just for a sanity check on South Carolina's progress, guess who their two chosen representatives are in the US Capital hall of statues representing each state? John "Civil War Architect" Calhoun and Wade "what, me racist" Hampton. I know these two characters It really is amazing the lengths people go to to craft a narrative that fits the "facts" they were raised on. One of the funnier ones in the book was blaming Rhode Island for southern adoption of slavery. All in all, a real head-shaker. And just for a sanity check on South Carolina's progress, guess who their two chosen representatives are in the US Capital hall of statues representing each state? John "Civil War Architect" Calhoun and Wade "what, me racist" Hampton. I know these two characters don't represent the views of a majority of South Carolinians so I nominate Robert Smalls as a replacement to start.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Denmark Vesey’s Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy/ Ethan J. Kytle & Blain Roberts. This book is a history of slavery in Charleston, SC and, I think, a representative story of bondage in the Confederate states. It is not as emotionally gripping as a tale of one person or a family or of a briefer patch of time; rather, it’s a centuries-long coverage of a community’s effort to maintain a society and an economy dependent upon severe racial inequality. It is a valuable text Denmark Vesey’s Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy/ Ethan J. Kytle & Blain Roberts. This book is a history of slavery in Charleston, SC and, I think, a representative story of bondage in the Confederate states. It is not as emotionally gripping as a tale of one person or a family or of a briefer patch of time; rather, it’s a centuries-long coverage of a community’s effort to maintain a society and an economy dependent upon severe racial inequality. It is a valuable text of public action as opposed to a “popular history,” in my opinion. The final section, which takes a stand against racism, was more uplifting.

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