"Brilliantly written . . . The study is a model in researching, writing, and interpreting local history."
—Journal of American History
"Ballots and Fence Rails deserves the much-abused designation 'classic.' It is an exemplary study that combines an acute analysis of the dynamics of Reconstruction with a richly textured portrait of a locale, its people, and its history—all accomplished with a fluidity and grace of presentation that only a few professional historians achieve."
Evans shows that although social change was sought at the ballot box, it was just as often resisted in the streets, with one faction armed with pistols and sabers and another, at one point, armed mostly with fence rails. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of the region, Evans dramatically portrays the conflict as it was viewed by former slaves, southern conservatives, carpetbaggers, and scalawags. Evans also clarifies many generalizations about Reconstruction that are often empty or unsubstantiated, showing that the right to vote cannot alone diffuse political power and that Reconstruction at the local level often differed from Reconstruction at the state level.
First published in 1967, when local history was still viewed as parochial or less important than national history, Evans's work is now considered pioneering. In his foreword Charles Joyner writes that "by seeking the universal in the particular, by pursuing large questions in his small place, William McKee Evans in Ballots and Fence Rails makes an important and distinctive contribution to the historical discipline."
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