Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Booknotes: The Record of Murders and Outrages

New Arrival:
The Record of Murders and Outrages: Racial Violence and the Fight over Truth at the Dawn of Reconstruction by William A. Blair (UNC Press, 2021).

From the description: "After the Civil War's end, reports surged of violence by Southern whites against Union troops and Black men, women, and children. While some in Washington, D.C., sought to downplay the growing evidence of atrocities, in September 1866, Freedmen's Bureau commissioner O. O. Howard requested that assistant commissioners in the readmitted states compile reports of "murders and outrages" to catalog the extent of violence, to prove that the reports of a peaceful South were wrong, and to argue in Congress for the necessity of martial law. What ensued was one of the most fascinating and least understood fights of the Reconstruction era—a political and analytical fight over information and its validity, with implications that dealt in life and death."

Based on in-person bureau agent interviews throughout the former Confederacy, the official Records Relating to Murders and Outrages eventually reached thousands of pages and recorded between "5,000 and 6,000 crimes" that took place postwar in both rural and urban environments by 1868. According to Blair, this documentation of those events had a strong influence on Reconstruction policy and debates. As one example cited in the introduction, the records "helped slow the timetable for readmission of states, especially Georgia" (pg. 3). While the documents have been used by other Reconstruction historians as source material, the author notes that The Record of Murders and Outrages: Racial Violence and the Fight over Truth at the Dawn of Reconstruction marks the first history solely devoted to their creation and impact.

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