Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Paul Escott's “'What Shall We Do with the Negro?'”

Paul D. Escott is Reynolds Professor of History at Wake Forest University. His books include After Secession and Slavery Remembered, winner of the Mayflower Cup.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, “What Shall We Do with the Negro?”: Lincoln, White Racism, and Civil War America, and reported the following:
The Ford test is intriguing. For my book, it has some value: it would give the reader a sense of the importance of some of the trees in the forest.

Noting the celebratory character of our culture's view of US history, my book re-examines the Civil War's discussion, North and South, about the future status of African Americans. It looks at newspapers, magazines, books, reports of military officers, and many other sources, but particularly at governmental policies and the policies of Abraham Lincoln. On page 99 the reader will get a sense of the research behind my book's conclusions and a feeling for some of the questions I ask.

Page XV and pages 223-24 would be more useful overall. They show that a divided and racist US society traveled a conflicted and complex route before confronting emancipation and the future status of African Americans. Many other questions took priority, and events forced change more often than the wise and far-seeing policies of leaders. Lincoln as the Great Emancipator is an icon in US popular culture today, but his policies during the war reveal a president who placed a higher priority on reunion than on emancipation, who showed an enduring respect for states' rights, who assumed that the social status of African Americans would change very slowly in freedom, and who offered major incentives to white Southerners at the expense of the interests of blacks. Important policy positions that are often ignored by historians receive careful analysis in this book.
Learn more about “What Shall We Do with the Negro?” at the University of Virginia Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue