Equality: An American Dilemma, 1866–1896

Farrar. Aug. 2019. 400p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780809079636. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781429946926. SOC SCI
Postel (history, San Francisco State Univ.; The Populist Vision) offers a lucid and deeply researched investigation of three of the post–Civil War era’s most powerful social reform movements and their charismatic leaders. The Grange, led by Oliver Kelley, fought for the rights of small farmers; the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, presided over by Francis Willard, advocated for women’s rights and child labor laws; and the Knights of Labor, directed by Terrence Powderly, held strikes to improve lives of workers. Postel is at his best when describing how all three movements struck devil’s bargains with the white South that in return for its membership marginalized African Americans who were denied the social equality these movements promised. African Americans formed their own protective organizations, but they were overrun by Jim Crow laws, while the above reform groups fell victim to economic and political elites. Postel warns that the early 21st century echoes the inequality of the Reconstruction and Gilded Age years, and that mass collective activism is essential to fulfilling the American promise.
VERDICT This scholarly account will appeal to informed readers, especially Reconstruction era historians.

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