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 slaves brought to the U.S. stepped onto our shores, where the first shot at Fort Sumter began the Civil War, and where Dylann Roof murdered nine people at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, which was co-founded by 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.


“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
Denmark Vesey’s Garden uses the small place of Charleston, South Carolina, to tell a large tale, what we remember of history and what we prefer to forget. It is a fascinating and unflinching performance, showing that all of American history can inhabit a few greying square miles.”
—Edward Ball, National Book Award–winning author of Slaves in the Family
Denmark Vesey’s Garden reveals that the long struggle over how Americans remember slavery has been inseparable from the long struggle for racial justice.”
—Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award–winning author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
Denmark Vesey’s Garden will have enormous implications for the entire country.”
—Douglas Egerton, author of Year of Meteors, Thunder at the Gates, and The Wars of Reconstruction
“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
“Nothing has shaped this nation more than slavery and its legacy. Kytle and Roberts’s meticulous research, compelling writing, and thoughtful analysis are vital to our nation at a time when we are haunted by a history we need to understand more deeply.”
—Bryan Stevenson, New York Times bestselling author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
“Ethan Kytle and Blain Roberts remind us that the cost of whitewashing the history of racial enslavement and its legacies continues to be too great a burden to bear for American democracy. For any reader interested in current political debates over Civil War memory and monuments, this book is a must-read.”
—Manisha Sinha, Frederick Douglass Book Prize–winning author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition

News and Reviews

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Kytle and Roberts’ combination of encyclopedic knowledge of Charleston’s history and empathy with its inhabitants’ past and present struggle make them ideal guides to this troubled history.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Eye–opening history. . . An important and fascinating examination of American slavery’s aftermath.

The Atlantic


A discussion on the legacy of slavery in the United States from the 23rd annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books that featured Ethan Kytle and Blain Roberts