Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pg. 69: "Redemption"

Nicholas Lemann is Henry R. Luce Professor and Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and author of Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War.

I asked him to put his book to the "page 69 test"; here is what he reported:
Page 69 of Redemption is about Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, who was a Confederate general, Mississippi Congressman and Senator, and, finally, late in the nineteenth century, a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Lamar managed to reverse his longstanding reputation as a Confederate bitter-ender with a single brilliant master-stroke: a florid eulogy, delivered in the House of Representatives in April 1874, for Charles Sumner, the abolitionist Senator from Massachusetts. Lamar used the death of Sumner, whom he had never met, as the occasion to issue a call for national reconciliation and healing. Overnight he became known as a Southern statesman, who believed in states’ rights but not in a return to servitude for the South’s newly freed slaves. The speech was still reverberating more than eighty years later: John F. Kennedy devoted a chapter of Profiles in Courage to it.

On page 69, however, I present a different and, from the present-day perspective, far less attractive side of Lamar. The University of Mississippi’s archives has a small stack of candid letters Lamar wrote to one of his Mississippi protégés, a lawyer named Edward Clark. Most of page 69 is devoted to quoting at length from a letter Lamar sent Clark just six months before his famous eulogy, in which he railed against the likelihood of Mississippi’s falling under the political control of a black-majority political coalition. He ended the letter this way: “It does seem to me that if there ever was a time when the white people of this state, the men in whose veins flows the blood of the ruling races of the world, should rise & with one unanimous voice protest against the domination to be piled upon them the present is that time.”

It’s my view that Lamar’s eulogy for Charles Sumner, and his behavior in Washington generally, was a pose, and quite an effective one. His true aim was to rid Mississippi of an empowered African-American electorate, by any means necessary. He seems to have realized that he would be more likely to achieve it through the appearance of conciliation than through open resistance. And his side won—through a coordinated campaign of terrorist violence in Mississippi that most of Redemption is devoted to describing, and that Lamar knew about, benefited from (he was quickly promoted from the House to the Senate) and kept just out of the range of his own impeccable national public reputation.
Many thanks to Nicholas for the input.

Click here to read an excerpt from Redemption.

Among the praise for Redemption:
"It is no secret that emancipation did not mark an end to the suffering of African Americans in the South. Building on the major historical studies of Reconstruction by scholars such as John Hope Franklin and Eric Foner, Nicholas Lemann’s gripping account of anti-black hatred and violence in Reconstruction-era Mississippi dramatizes these struggles and brings the history of this roiling period front and center, where it belongs."
--Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University

"It is no surprise that Nick Lemann, with his enormous skills as a writer, has taken one of the least understood and most manipulated moments in our history and redeemed it—and the truth—for the rest of us. Now, thanks to his superb storytelling, some of the fog around this dark chapter has lifted."
--Ken Burns

"Short and concise, Nicholas Lemann’s Redemption is one of the very best accounts of Reconstruction I’ve ever read. Focusing on the Southern ‘Redeemers’’ slaughter of innocent blacks as well as the hopes and trials of Adelbert Ames, the heroic Civil War general who became governor of Mississippi, Lemann succeeds in showing that the defeat of Reconstruction was in many ways ‘the last battle of the Civil War,’ a battle won of course by the South."
--David Brion Davis, Yale University
Click here to read Jonathan Yardley's review in the Washington Post.

Lemann's previous books include The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy (1999) and The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America (1991), which won several book prizes. He has written widely for such publications as the New Yorker, the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, The New Republic, Slate, and American Heritage.

Click here to read Lemann's short New Yorker article about our shared hometown's assault by Katrina, and here for a Q & A on New Orleans' past, present, and uncertain future.

Previous "page 69 tests":
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue