The Accident of Color: A Story of Race in Reconstruction

Norton. Jun. 2019. 336p. ISBN 9780393247442. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393247459. HIST
Brook (The Trap) takes readers deep inside a world of shadows in 19th-century Charleston, SC, and New Orleans to discover the lives of free mixed-race people who occupied a place in between black and white and maintained their identity through strategic alliances with whites, their own social institutions, and a keen sense of racial boundaries. With deft descriptions of particular families, the author then shows how the abolishment of slavery ended that world, as “freedom” led to a binary realm of black or white, with no middle ground. By Brook’s reckoning, most biracial families cast their lot with black citizens, fighting for civil rights. But ultimately racism overruled all the gains, and with the rise of Jim Crow and the loss of the ballot, biracial people either tried to pass as “white” or survive as best they could as black citizens. Brook’s history points to the ways Reconstruction impacted urban settings differently than across much of the South, and how early civil rights attempts almost succeeded. In doing so, he reminds us that Jim Crowism and disfranchisement were not inevitable.
VERDICT This poignant and powerful book shows us that decisions and laws surrounding racial identity and interest were deliberate. Knowing that matters in thinking about race today. [See Prepub Alert, 12/6/18.]

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