Civil Wars, Civil Beings, and Civil Rights in Alabama's Black Belt: A History of Perry County (Hardcover)
Reconstruction politics and race relations between freed blacks and the white establishment in Perry County, Alabama
In his fascinating, in-depth study, Bertis D. English analyzes why Perry County, situated in the heart of a violence-prone subregion of Alabama, enjoyed more peaceful race relations and less bloodshed than several neighboring counties. Choosing an atypical locality as central to his study, English raises questions about factors affecting ethnic disturbances in the Black Belt and elsewhere in Alabama. He also uses Perry County, which he deems an anomalous county, to caution against the tendency of some scholars to make sweeping generalizations about entire regions and subregions.
English contends Perry County was a relatively tranquil place with a set of extremely influential African American businessmen, clergy, politicians, and other leaders during Reconstruction. Together with egalitarian or opportunistic white citizens, they headed a successful campaign for black agency and biracial cooperation that few counties in Alabama matched. English also illustrates how a significant number of educational institutions, a high density of African American residents, and an unusually organized and informed African American population were essential factors in forming Perry County’s character. He likewise traces the development of religion in Perry, the nineteenth-century Baptist capital of Alabama, and the emergence of civil rights in Perry, an underemphasized center of activism during the twentieth century.
This well-researched and comprehensive volume illuminates Perry County’s history from the various perspectives of its black, interracial, and white inhabitants, amplifying their own voices in a novel way. The narrative includes rich personal details about ordinary and affluent people, both free and unfree, creating a distinctive resource that will be useful to scholars as well as a reference that will serve the needs of students and general readers.
About the Author
Bertis D. English is professor of history at Alabama State University.
“Bertis English presents a treasure chest of relevant and important historical material related to Perry County, Alabama, providing information that comprehensively illuminates experiences of the area’s residents in a way that state and regional studies cannot.”
—Kenneth M. Hamilton, author of Booker T. Washington in American Memory
“Among the understudied aspects of Reconstruction, are the places where the Klan dog didn’t bark, much, and where terrorist violence was less common. Bertis English’s book examines one of these areas, where white elites and freedpeople stepped back from the brink of all-out racial conflict. Understanding how this occurred, and what the constraints were, animates this illuminating study. This unusual approach deserves attention.”
—Michael W. Fitzgerald, author of Reconstruction in Alabama: From Civil War to Redemption in the Cotton South
“Civil Wars, Civil Beings, and Civil Rights in Alabama’s Black Belt offers evidence as to why communities such as Perry County should be studied by everyday citizens, local leaders, politicians at each level, activists, and students of every race, socioeconomic background, gender, and region. This book does work that state, regional, and national studies tend not to accomplish. It intersects intertwined narratives of common and affluent people through racialized dialogues and with help from interracial articulations to push forward a Black agenda that demanded respect from opportunistic white egalitarians in a highly politicized local space.”
—Journal of Southern History