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When newly-liberated African American slaves attempted to enter the marketplace and exercise their rights as citizens of the United States in 1865, few, if any, Americans expected that, a century and a half later, the class divide between black and white Americans would be as wide as it is today. The United States has faced several potential key turning points in the status of African Americans over the course of its history, yet at each of these points the prevailing understanding of African Americans and their place in the economic and political fabric of the country was at best contested and resolved on the side of second-class citizenship.
The Oxford Handbook of African American Citizenship, 1865-Present seeks to answer the question of what the United States would look like today if, at the end of the Civil War, freed slaves had been granted full political, social and economic rights. It does so by tracing the historical evolution of African American experiences, from the dawn of Reconstruction onward, through the perspectives of sociology, political science, law, economics, education and psychology. As a whole, the book is the first systematic study of the gap between promise and performance of African Americans since 1865. Over the course of thirty-four chapters, written by some of the most eminent scholars of African American studies and across every major social discipline, this handbook presents a full and powerful portrait of the particular hurdles faced by African Americans and the distinctive contributions African Americans have made to the development of U.S. institutions and culture. As such, it tracks where African Americans have been in order to better illuminate the path ahead.