Denmark Vesey’s Garden

Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy

The stunning, groundbreaking account of “the ways in which our nation has tried to come to grips with its original sin” (Providence Journal)

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

Hailed by the New York Times as a “fascinating and important new historical study that examines . . . the place where the ways slavery is remembered mattered most,” Denmark Vesey’s Garden “maps competing memories of slavery from abolition to the very recent struggle to rename or remove Confederate symbols across the country” (The New Republic). This timely book reveals the deep roots of present-day 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 United States 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 they examine public rituals, controversial monuments, and competing musical traditions, “Kytle and Roberts’s combination of encyclopedic knowledge of Charleston’s history and empathy with its inhabitants’ past and present struggles make them ideal guides to this troubled history” (Publishers Weekly, starred review). A work the Civil War Times called “a stunning contribution,” 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

The New Republic

The Persistence of Whitewashing: How can Americans have such different memories of slavery?

The New York Times

On Kanye and denying the horrors of slavery, authors Kytle and Roberts speak to the moment in their latest New York Times op–ed.

Janet Maslin, The New York Times

[A] fascinating and important new historical study.

Shelf Awareness

Vital to understanding some of the deepest fault lines in American life. . . . An excellent history of the divergent views of slavery.