Denmark Vesey’s Garden

Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy

In the tradition of James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me, a deeply researched book that uncovers competing histories of how slavery is remembered in Charleston, South Carolina—the heart of Dixie

Denmark Vesey’s Garden will have enormous implications for the entire country.” —Douglas Egerton, author of Thunder at the Gates (co-winner of the 2017 Lincoln Prize)

A book that strikes at the source of the recent flare-ups over Confederate symbols in Charlottesville, New Orleans, and elsewhere, Denmark Vesey’s Garden reveals the deep roots of these controversies and traces them to the capital of slavery in the United States: Charleston, South Carolina, where almost half of the U.S. slave population stepped onto our shores, where the first shot at Fort Sumter began the Civil War, and where Dylann Roof shot nine people at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, the congregation of Denmark Vesey, a black revolutionary who plotted a massive slave insurrection in 1822.

As early as 1865, former slaveholders and their descendants began working to construct a romanticized memory of the antebellum South. In contrast, former slaves, their descendants, and some white allies have worked to preserve an honest, unvarnished account of slavery as the cruel system it was.

Examining public rituals, controversial monuments, and competing musical traditions, Denmark Vesey’s Garden tracks these two rival memories from the Civil War to recent decades—when a segregated tourism industry reflecting these opposing visions of the past took hold in the popular vacation destination. Denmark Vesey’s Garden exposes a hidden dimension of America’s deep racial divide, joining the small bookshelf of major, paradigm-shifting interpretations of slavery’s enduring legacy in the United States.

Praise

“Readers are drawn into a community where the shadows of slavery are ever-present and white and black Charlestonians jockey for influence over whether and how those shadows are acknowledged.”
—Fitzhugh Brundage, William B. Umstead Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina
“Kytle and Roberts’s engaging style will remind readers of Edward Ball’s work, Slaves in the Family, providing a new window onto the Charleston past and delivering an important message for the present.”
—Catherine Clinton, Denman Chair of American History, University of Texas, San Antonio, and president, Southern Historical Association