Book Spotlight: February 2012

January 31, 2012 Posted by: Tom Dewey, Librarian

The St. Louis African American Community and the Exodusters. Jack, Bryan M. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007.

After the Reconstruction era ended in the United States, life for many African-Americans remained intolerable. Many were threatened with violence and had little or no opportunity to earn a fair wage to support themselves or to raise a family. Bryan A. Jack explains in his book, The St. Louis African American Community and the Exodusters, that these conditions motivated African Americans to head west to Kansas during the years 1879-1880. Many were from Louisiana and other parts of the American south.

St. Louis was a natural stopping point in their journey west to Kansas. City officials in St. Louis generally refused assistance to the migrants fearing any assistance would encourage more to come and remain in the city. The author explains how the local African American community came to the rescue by organizing relief efforts to assist them while they were on their way west to Kansas.

Author Bryan Jack argues that the St. Louis African American community understood that if the Exodusters' right to freedom of movement was limited, so would be the rights of all African Americans. He shows that local aid to the Exodusters was more than charity but also a form of collective resistance to white supremacy and segregation as well as a statement for freedom and self-direction. Jack also discusses divisions within that community and among its leaders regarding the nature of aid and even whether it should be provided.

In addition to the compelling stories of individuals in the movement, and the people who aided them, the reader is also provided a vivid & informative picture of St. Louis as it was developing into a major American city. Overall, the author does a good job of explaining the western movement and offers much insight into the plight of African Americans after the Civil War and Reconstruction eras ended.


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