James Oakes is a Distinguished Professor at the CUNY 
Graduate Center. His most recent book is The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War. (December 2019)


An Unfinished Revolution

A reunion of former slaves at the Cosmopolitan Baptist Church, Washington, D.C., 1917. From left to right, Lewis Martin, 100; Martha Elizabeth Banks, 104; Amy Ware, 103; and Reverend Simon P. Drew, who was born free.

Reconstruction: America After the Civil War

a PBS documentary series produced by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow

by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
When Henry Louis Gates Jr. set out to produce a documentary series on Reconstruction for PBS, he wisely invited Eric Foner to serve as his senior scholarly adviser. Together they assembled many of the very best historians working in the field to guide viewers through four superb hours on the history and significance of Reconstruction. With Gates narrating, the documentary takes us from the origins of Reconstruction as slavery was destroyed during the Civil War all the way to the early twentieth century, with the repudiation—both popular and scholarly—of Reconstruction.

The Great Divide

Abraham Lincoln, Washington, D.C., April 1864; photograph by Anthony Berger, printed from a broken negative

Becoming Lincoln

by William W. Freehling

The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War

by Joanne B. Freeman
Most historians now agree that the slave states seceded to protect slavery. Gone are the days when the so-called revisionist historians argued that the South left the Union in defense of states’ rights or because of high protective tariffs that favored Northern industry over Southern agriculture. These days scholarly disagreement …

The Power of Running Away

Charles White: Exodus I: Black Moses (Harriet Tubman), 1951; from the exhibition ‘Charles White: A Retrospective,’ on view at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, until January 13, 2019. The catalog is published by the Art Institute of Chicago and MoMA and distributed by Yale University Press.

The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery

by R.J.M. Blackett
In January 1850 Senators Andrew P. Butler of South Carolina and James Mason of Virginia proposed a new Fugitive Slave Law to replace the statute that had been on the books since 1793. A new law was needed, they said, because the old one was not being enforced. Free black …

Our ‘Wicked War’

The Battle of Buena Vista, also known as the Battle of La Angostura, during the Mexican-American War, February 1847

The Dead March: A History of the Mexican-American War

by Peter Guardino
One of the odd things about the controversy over monuments to the Confederacy is that they memorialize the losing side in the Civil War. Americans generally prefer to remember the winners. In Washington, D.C., both the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument celebrate leaders of the successful rebellion against Great …