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At a public picnic in the South in the 1890s, a young man paid five cents for his first chance to hear the revolutionary Edison talking machine. He eagerly listened as the soundman placed the needle down, only to find that through the tubes he held to his ears came the chilling sounds of a lynching. In this story, with its blend of new technology and old hatreds, genteel picnic and mob violence, Edward Ayers captures the history of the South in the years between Reconstruction and the turn of the century—a combination of progress and reaction that defined the contradictory promise of the New South.
Ranging from the Georgia coast to the Tennessee mountains, from the power brokers to tenant farmers, Ayers depicts a land of startling contrasts—a time of progress and repression, of new industries and old ways. Ayers takes us from remote Southern towns, revolutionized by the spread of the railroads, to the statehouses where Democratic “Redeemers” swept away the legacy…[more]