From a groundbreaking scholar, a heart-wrenching reexamination of the struggle for survival in the Reconstruction-era South, and what it cost. The story of Reconstruction is often told from the perspective of the politicians, generals, and journalists whose accounts claim an outsized place in collective memory. But this pivotal era looked very different to African Americans in the South transitioning from bondage to freedom after 1865. They were besieged by a campaign of white supremacist violence that persisted through the 1880s and beyond. For too long, their lived experiences have been sidelined, impoverishing our understanding of the obstacles post–Civil War Black families faced, their inspiring determination to survive, and the physical and emotional scars they bore because of it.
In I Saw Death Coming, Kidada E. Williams offers a breakthrough account of the much-debated Reconstruction period, transporting readers into the daily existence of formerly enslaved people building hope-filled new lives. Drawing on overlooked sources and bold new readings of the archives, Williams offers a revelatory and, in some cases, minute-by-minute record of nighttime raids and Ku Klux Klan strikes. And she deploys cutting-edge scholarship on trauma to consider how the effects of these attacks would linger for decades—indeed, generations—to come.
For readers of Carol Anderson, Tiya Miles, and Clint Smith, I Saw Death Coming is an indelible and essential book that speaks to some of the most pressing questions of our times.