The married historians’ book Denmark Vesey’s Garden is a remarkable exploration of the radically different memories of antebellum Charleston that coexisted for 100 years ... Kytle and Roberts caution against complacency in the face of racism. Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine African-Americans in Vesey’s old church in 2015, had visited the city’s historical sites ahead of the massacre—and learned all the wrong lessons.
Kytle and Blain Roberts’s book Denmark Vesey’s Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy, a work that, for the first time, maps competing memories of slavery from abolition to the very recent struggle to rename or remove Confederate symbols across the country. The aim of the book is not simply to reject 'whitewashed memories of slavery.' What matters most for Kytle and Roberts is 'how whitewashed memories have been used in modern America,' from the Black Codes and Jim Crow to debates over affirmative action and reparations, to deny the suffering that slavery and its legacies still cause today ... While Denmark Vesey’s Garden shows the persistent fight for honest memory, the authors harbor no illusions that now is a time to celebrate.
The authors have done a good job of including black voices, which are often missing from history books describing the nineteenth century. They have tapped local archives with letters from black citizens, church sermons and the archives of the interviews of former slaves conducted by the federal Works Progress Administration ... By focusing on the people of Charleston, they construct a fascinating narrative of a how the South resisted the Republican Party’s policy of Reconstruction. In a way, the book reminded me of Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. By focusing on a small community and individual stories we gain insight into a complex, continent-wide catastrophe that is otherwise hard to grasp ... Denmark Vesey’s Garden and its detailed account of the struggles in Charleston provides a valuable new perspective on why certain groups in the South cling to a 'whitewashed' version of history when most Americans are seeking to learn more about slavery and its deep impact on American life.
Denmark Vesey's Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy is vital to understanding some of the deepest fault lines in American life ... This is an excellent history of the divergent views of slavery that developed in Charleston, S.C., after the Civil War and that have contributed to deep racial divisions in American life.
Making fine use of letters, diaries, and other sources, the authors offer a richly detailed, vivid re-creation of the entire era, showing how former slaveholders fostered romanticized antebellum memories while former slaves told the true story of slavery’s brutality ... An important and fascinating examination of American slavery’s aftermath.