Most histories of Reconstruction deal primarily with political issues and the larger conflicts between Democrats and Republicans, notherners and southerners. The Trouble They Seen departs from this approach to examine in their own words the lives of ordinary ex-slaves who had few skills and fewer opportunities. People are by now familiar with names like Frederick Douglass, Martin R. Delany, and Robert Smalls, but they know little of the men and women of more modest distinction, less still of the anonymous millions whose lives have been recorded in letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, and official documents.
Editor Dorothy Sterling has drawn on these primary sources and with cogent commentary depicts the African American experience during Reconstruction, from 1865 to 1877. The period unfolds with immediacy and drama in the voices of African Americans: the problems and promise of the first year; the role of the Freedmen’s Bureau; anti-black violence; the initiation of political participation; the development of black colleges; the renaissance in the African American community, a time of unprecedented progress in the fields of politics, education, economics, and culture; and the inevitable tragic struggle by African Americans against southern white efforts to resume political power and to fetter black freedom with a thousand chains more durable than slavery.