Denmark Vesey's garden Slavery and memory in the cradle of the Confederacy

Ethan J. Kytle

Book - 2018

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 congrega...tion 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. --inside jacket.

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New York : The New Press 2018.
Item Description
"A 150-year reckoning with America's Original Sin" --front cover.
Physical Description
445 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Ethan J. Kytle (author)
Other Authors
Blain Roberts (author)
  • Prelude: Slavery's capital
  • Part I: Emancipation and Reconstruction
  • The year of jubilee
  • Reconstructing Charleston in the shadow of slavery
  • Part II: Jim Crow rising
  • Setting Jim Crow in stone
  • Cradle of the Lost Cause
  • Part III: Jim Crow era
  • Black memory in the Ivory City
  • America's most historic city
  • The sounds of slavery
  • We don't go in for slave horrors
  • Part IV: Civil rights era and beyond
  • We shall overcome
  • Segregating the past
  • Conclusion: Denmark Vesey's garden
  • Afterword: The saving grace of the Emanuel nine?
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

As historians Kytle (Romantic Reformers and the Antislavery Struggle in the Civil War Era) and Roberts (Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women) show in this examination of the historical memory of slavery in Charleston, S.C., the chronological length and socioeconomic depth of Charleston's commitment to slavery make it what one abolitionist called "the citadel and capital of American slavery." After slavery's end, freed people and their former owners battled over the parameters of emancipation; the former staged lavish annual pageants in celebration of liberation; the latter limited the freedoms of their ex-slaves through extremely repressive law codes, while insisting that their "Lost Cause" had been white liberty, not black slavery. From Charleston's transition in the 1920s into a mecca for tourism through the Jim Crow era and beyond, white preservationists simultaneously whitewashed the history of slavery and turned African-American culture into a quaint symbol of the "Old South." The 21st century has seen efforts in Charleston to more visibly and honestly acknowledge the local history of slavery-in, for example, plantation tours and plaques-but the massacre of worshipers at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church in 2015 and the resurgence of open white supremacy connected to Trumpism lead the authors to question how much progress has really been made. Kytle and Roberts's combination of encyclopedic knowledge of Charleston's history and empathy with its inhabitants' past and present struggles make them ideal guides to this troubled history. B&w illus. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

In this timely look at America's contested past, Kytle and Roberts (both history, California State Univ., Fresno) trace the ways in which slavery has been portrayed in Charleston, SC-the center of the American slave trade and a leader in the move toward secession-from the Civil War to the present. The authors also carefully detail how slavery has been deliberately misrepresented or simply ignored in published histories, music, museums, and historic tours. While the book continues through the civil rights movements of the 1960s and the advent of African American-led tours beginning in the 1980s, the primary focus is the decades after the Civil War, when white leaders advanced a narrative that deemphasized the slave trade, portraying Confederate soldiers as heroes and enslaved men and women as happy laborers. Kytle and Roberts are effective in demonstrating how the "Lost Cause" myth was essential in furthering white supremacist political objectives. VERDICT Strongly recommended for anyone interested in or hoping to understand more about Southern history, especially the ongoing debate over the representation of slavery and the Confederacy.-Nicholas Graham, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

"Americans do not share a common memory of slavery," write California State University, Fresno, historians Kytle (Romantic Reformers and the Antislavery Struggle in the Civil War Era, 2014) and Roberts (Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women: Race and Beauty in the Twentieth-Century South, 2014) in this eye-opening history.The authors point out the "whitewashed" and "unvarnished" versions of the American slavery story. The whitewashed version recalls benevolent masters and faithful slaves; the unvarnished describes the cruelties of enslavement. To recount the memory of slavery from its abolition in 1865 to now, the authors focus on Charleston, South Carolina, where the Civil War began at Fort Sumter and which became the "epicenter" of the Lost Cause gospel and longtime site of "Confederate veneration." Making fine use of letters, diaries, and other sources, the authors offer a richly detailed, vivid re-creation of the entire era, showing how former slaveholders fostered romanticized antebellum memories while former slaves told the true story of slavery's brutality. Tracing these conflicting narratives through Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, and recent years, the authors detail the roles played by the Charleston News and Courier, the Old Slave Mart Museum (long the only museum focused on American slavery, it argued slavery's horrors were "greatly overstated"), and other institutions that made the city a "tourist mecca" after the Civil War, complete with visits to local gardens. "Few things troubled white southerners more than the notion that their ancestors had actively engaged in the sale of men, women, and children and facilitated the destruction of families," write the authors. Those pressing for unvarnished memories countered a post-World War II campaign to "remove most traces of slavery" by providing black heritage tours, made slave spirituals part of the civil rights movement, and sought to memorialize Denmark Vesey, a former slave who planned a revolt in 1822 (and was honored with a statue in 2014). The authors note a "more truthful" memory of slavery has prevailed in Charleston since the early 2000s.An important and fascinating examination of American slavery's aftermath. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.