An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C.
In "An Example for All the Land," Kate Masur offers the first major study of Washington during Reconstruction in over fifty years. Masur's panoramic account considers grassroots struggles, city politics, Congress, and the presidency, revealing the District of Columbia as a unique battleground in the American struggle over equality.
After slavery's demise, the question of racial equality produced a multifaceted debate about who should have which rights and privileges, and in which places. Masur shows that black Washingtonians demanded public respect for their organizations and equal access to streetcars, public schools, the vote, and municipal employment. Congressional Republicans, in turn, passed local legislation that made the capital the nation's vanguard of racial equality, drawing the attention of woman suffragists hoping for similar experiments in women's rights. But a conservative coalition soon mobilized and, in the name of reform and modernization, sought to undermine African Americans' newfound influence in local affairs. In a stunning reversal, Congress then abolished local self-government, making the capital an exemplar of disfranchisement amid a national debate about the dangers of democracy.
Combining political, social, and legal history, Masur reveals Washington as a laboratory for social policy at a pivotal moment in American history and brings the question of equality to the forefront of Reconstruction scholarship.