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 congregation 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.
Ethan J. Kytle is an associate professor of history at California State University, Fresno and the author of Romantic Reformers and the Antislavery Struggle in the Civil War Era. Kytle lives in Fresno, California. Blain Roberts is an associate professor of history at California State University, Fresno and the author of Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women. She lives in Fresno, California.
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