Albion W. Tourgée, a former Union officer from Ohio, came to North Carolina in search of economic opportunity after the collapse of the Confederacy. A young man and a fearless advocate of freedmen’s rights, he soon became a radical Republican leader and a prominent figure in local politics.
After he quit the South in 1874, Tourgée published a succession of novels and stories which made him famous. Bricks Without Straw, one of his two best-selling novels, is not only a moving story but an important commentary on the Reconstruction process in the South.
This new edition of the book remains faithful to the original, which appeared in 1880. In his introduction, Profession Otto H. Olsen gives a comprehensive evaluation of the book and its author, and their impact on the era of Reconstruction.
Tourgée was an astute and reliable observer of the Reconstruction scene. In Bricks Without Straw he concentrated on the problems and the continuing dilemma of freed slaves. Led by Nimbus Ware, a “good enough nigger but might aggravating to the white folk,” and Eliab Hill, a crippled mulatto preacher, former slaves begin their postwar experience by availing themselves of the educational, economic, and political opportunities of freedom. But as soon as federal protection is withdrawn, their existence becomes precarious in the face of the Ku Klux Klan and resentful southern whites.
The novel conveys a true sense of the trials and accomplishments of a severely handicapped black population caught in the oppressive racist environment of the postwar South. But, as Professor Olsen points out, the book’s pioneering—and still pertinent—literary achievement is its repudiation of racist stereotypes and its effective portrayal of the essential humanity of the freed black slaves.
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