Tonya Bolden’s Cause: Reconstruction America, 1863-1877 is one of the few non-fiction texts on Reconstruction aimed at young readers. It is a strong alternative to the textbook treatment of the era.
Like many textbooks, Cause focuses mainly on the battles between President Andrew Johnson and Congress, and the white supremacist backlash against civil rights in the South. However, Bolden’s book is much more comprehensive and touches on people’s history themes, moments, and figures that most textbooks ignore: Black landownership in the Sea Islands, the potential for land reform in Congress, William Whipper and Charlotte Rollins’ efforts in South Carolina for women’s rights, the debates between abolitionists and feminists at the end of the war, the National Labor Union, Isaac Myers, and the fight for an interracial labor movement.
The book even covers Indian resistance to the government’s land grabs and the struggle of Chinese workers for better wages and working conditions in the West—something completely absent in most accounts of Reconstruction.
Unfortunately, possibly in an attempt to present an alternative to the textbook or simply to try and remain “neutral,” the book can often seem like a list of facts without a broader political and economic analysis. This can make the book difficult to read, despite its aim at being accessible to young readers. Nevertheless, Cause, is a good alternative for middle school teachers looking for a non-fiction account of Reconstruction.
ISBN: 9780375827969 | Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.