Bricks Without Straw

A Novel

Bricks Without Straw

Book Pages: 464 Illustrations: 8 illustrations Published: May 2009

American Studies, History > U.S. History, Literature and Literary Studies > Fiction

A classic of American political fiction first published in 1880, a mere three years after Reconstruction officially ended, Bricks Without Straw offers an inside view of the struggle to create a just society in the post-slavery South. It is unique among the white-authored literary works of its time in presenting Reconstruction through the eyes of emancipated slaves. As a leading Radical Republican, the author, Albion W. Tourgée, played a key role in drafting a democratized Constitution for North Carolina after the Civil War, and he served as a state superior court judge during Reconstruction. Tourgée worked closely with African Americans and poor whites in the struggle to transform North Carolina’s racial and class politics. He saw the ravages of the Ku Klux Klan firsthand, worked to bring the perpetrators of Klan atrocities to justice, and fought against what he called the “counter-revolution” that destroyed Reconstruction.

Bricks Without Straw is Tourgée’s fictionalized account of how Reconstruction was sabotaged. It is a chilling picture of violence against African Americans condoned, civil rights abrogated, constitutional amendments subverted, and electoral fraud institutionalized. Its plot revolves around a group of North Carolina freedpeople who strive to build new lives for themselves by buying land, marketing their own crops, setting up a church and school, and voting for politicians sympathetic to their interests, until Klan terrorism and the ascendancy of a white supremacist government reduce them to neo-slavery. This edition of Bricks Without Straw is enhanced by Carolyn L. Karcher’s introduction, which sets the novel in historical context and provides an overview of Albion W. Tourgée’s career, a chronology of the significant events of both the Reconstruction era and Tourgée’s life, and explanatory notes identifying actual events fictionalized in the novel.


“Any reader interested in the aftermath of the Civil War, American history, politics, and literature of the time will find Bricks Without Straw informative, even moving. When read with the guidance of Carolyn Karcher’s fine Introduction one will come away with a much fuller understanding and appreciation of this critical period in American history.” — Dean H. Keller, Northern Ohio Bibliographic Society

“Carolyn L. Karcher has accomplished… a sixty-four-page essay that should become the source for a critically sophisticated introduction to Tourgée’s life and work in historical context….. Karcher is…astute when assessing…Tourgée’s fiction…. It is Tourgée’s time again, and Carolyn L. Karcher has helped make it so.” — Peter Schmidt, Resources for American Literary Study

“History now remembers Tourgée as a civil rights visionary. . . . Bricks Without Straw tells the story of Reconstruction from the viewpoint of the people who suffered through it the most: the newly freed slaves. . . . [A] firsthand document of the South's bleakest years.” — Bronwen Dickey, Independent Weekly

“In her superlative introduction to his edition, Karcher argues that Bricks Without Straw ‘cries out to be rediscovered as one of the most powerful race novels ever written by a white American.’. . . Highly Recommended. All readers.” — J.W. Hall, Choice

“Carolyn L. Karcher’s new 2009 edition brings Tourgée’s underappreciated novel to life with fascinating insight into both his life and the events that spurred the production of Bricks Without Straw. Karcher’s sweeping new introduction deftly outlines the historical markers of Tourgée’s experiences in the postwar South that greatly influenced the semi-fictional world illustrated in Bricks and serves as a valuable window into a period of American history steeped in violence, mystery, and cultural shame. . . . Coupled with Karcher’s comprehensive introduction, the latest edition of Bricks Without Straw is sure to position Tourgée’s fourth novel among the finest literature produced concerning the allegedly Reconstructed South.” — Stephanie Schroeder, Journal of the North Carolina Association of Historians

“Duke University Press has performed a public service by releasing, in an inexpensive paperback edition, a North Carolina classic: Bricks Without Straw by Albion W. Tourgee, an 1880 novel about Reconstruction in North Carolina.” — Ben Steelman, Willmington Star News

“Duke University Press’ reprint of Bricks Without Straw, beautifully edited by Carolyn L. Karcher, allows us not just to engage with an unjustly neglected classic but also to ask, in the spirit of Tourgée, broad, even iconoclastic, questions about Reconstruction historiography.” — Gregory P. Downs, Reviews in American History

“For readers who want to know more about the history of Reconstruction, this new edition is a must. . . . Karcher has brought a great historical novel to light. It will make readers ponder how the history of the 20th century might have been different had Reconstruction been given the support it deserved.” — Cliff Bellamy, Durham Herald-Sun

“Practically speaking, students and scholars may now discover the novel without having previous familiarity with the book, whereas prior to Karcher’s edition, one had to seek out an out-of-print copy in the library or on the Internet, as was the case for the reviewer when she began her research several years ago. . . . With the help of Karcher’s introduction and annotations, readers will also understand Bricks Without Straw within the historical context of Reconstruction and Tourgée’s prolific career, thus facilitating an enhanced appreciation of novel.” — Miriam Farris H-CivWar, H-Net Reviews

“A new edition of Bricks Without Straw is a major event in the ongoing task of reconstructing the literature of Reconstruction. Lawyer/novelist Albion W. Tourgée was a tireless advocate of African American rights who criticized both North and South for the failures of Reconstruction. In her superb introduction, Carolyn L. Karcher makes a compelling case that Bricks, with its dramatic rendition of the forces undermining freedmen’s efforts to secure economic and political independence, is Tourgée’s best work of fiction.” — Brook Thomas, author of Civic Myths: A Law and Literature Approach to Citizenship

“A new edition of Albion Tourgée’s neglected masterpiece on Reconstruction is long overdue. As Carolyn L. Karcher makes clear in her thorough and incisive introduction, Bricks Without Straw deserves to be ranked with Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Chesnutt’s Marrow of Tradition as one of the most important postbellum American novels to deal with race and African American history.” — Mark Elliott, author of Color-Blind Justice: Albion Tourgée and the Quest for Racial Equality

“Albion W. Tourgée’s novel is a classic: a great read with some extraordinary insights into the Reconstruction era and post–Civil War American race relations. The centrality of blacks in the story makes it nearly unique in the literature of the period.” — Ira Berlin, author of Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Albion W. Tourgée (1838–1905) was a soldier, journalist, attorney, judge, and prolific author of books, including the novel A Fool’s Errand, by One of the Fools (1879). As the lead attorney for the plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), Tourgée argued against the “separate but equal” doctrine. Carolyn L. Karcher is Professor Emerita at Temple University, where she taught English, American studies, and women’s studies. Among her books are The First Woman of the Republic: A Cultural Biography of Lydia Maria Child and A Lydia Maria Child Reader, both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowlegments ix

Introduction / Carolyn L. Karcher 1

Chronology 65

Bricks Without Straw 87

Annotations 433

Index 447
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4413-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4395-0
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