The Failed Promise: Reconstruction, Frederick Douglass, and the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

“In this engrossing new book, Robert S. Levine has penned a nuanced and detailed study of the ‘hopes and frustrations of Reconstruction’ during Andrew Johnson’s presidency. While focusing on the relationship between Johnson and Frederick Douglass, the author also includes the views of numerous African American writers who witnessed Johnson’s transformation from self-styled ‘Moses to Black People’ to betrayer of Reconstruction. The Failed Promise is a lesson for our times as we continue to confront our nation’s unfulfilled promise of racial equality.” 

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., author of Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy and the Rise of Jim Crow

Tuesday, Sep 21 from 7 – 8 pm online 

HCLS is pleased to welcome author Robert S. Levine as he discusses his new book, The Failed Promise: Reconstruction, Frederick Douglass, and the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson, which tells the story of Frederick Douglass’ heated struggle with President Andrew Johnson over the rights of Black Americans in the years immediately following the Civil War. 

Professor Levine recounts the conflicts that led to Johnson’s impeachment from the perspective of Douglass and the wider Black community. Douglass believed that the Union victory in the Civil War, aided by nearly 200,000 Black soldiers, meant that African Americans should gain the full rights of U.S. citizenship, including the right to vote. Sadly, Black Americans and other minorities are continuing to fight for such rights. Douglass’ struggle with Johnson speaks to the promise and failure of Reconstruction, and to the struggles of our own moment as well. 

Learn more and register at bit.ly/failedpromise

Robert S. Levine is a distinguished University Professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author and editor of a number of books, including The Lives of Frederick Douglass, and he is the General Editor of The Norton Anthology of American Literature, the world’s most widely used American literature anthology. Visit his website for more starred reviews of The Failed Promise as well as a bibliography of his other writings.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

The title appears against a painting of a green landscape and blue sky with white clouds, with a silhouette of a girl leading a horse and cart in the bottom left

By Jean B.

I love a book with a map, so News of the World captured me even before page one. Throughout my reading, I pored over the sepia endpaper map of Texas circa 1870, with its bright red line tracing a path from Wichita Falls along the northern border with Indian territory, all the way down to San Antonio and the Rio Grande. As you might guess, given the map, this is a book about a journey – across both rough territory and psychological barriers. As the characters made their way along the bright red line, Giles’ beautiful prose transported me into this time and place and into the lives of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, age 71, and Johanna Leonberger, age 10.  

It’s the Reconstruction era in Texas, a time of political turmoil and uncertainty, random violence and unexpected kindness, across an incredibly varied landscape. Captain Kidd, a survivor of three wars, has dedicated his life to connecting people through information. He is alone, having lost his wife and his printing business in the Civil War. Kidd now makes his living by traveling through small towns, performing live readings of newspapers from around the country and the world to isolated residents hungry for stories of faraway places and remarkable events. Suddenly, his nomadic routine is disrupted by an unsought responsibility – he must deliver Johanna, a traumatized orphan who has lived as a captive of the Kiowa tribe for six years and knows no other family, back to her relatives near San Antonio. Traversing that 400 mile path, the characters must overcome challenges small and large and, in the process, build mutual trust and companionship.

I would not call myself a fan of Westerns, in either novels or movies, but Paulette Jiles’ exquisite descriptions of the plants, weather, and settlements of this landscape drew me in. Her writing made me want to ride a horse through the hills, canyons, and prairies of Texas (minus the deadly threats along the way). Maybe I’ll do that someday, but in the meantime, luckily, we can get the visual experience by watching the 2020 movie based on the book! Starring Tom Hanks as Captain Kidd, the movie garnered four Oscar nominations, and you borrow the DVD from HCLS.  

While both the book and the movie open a window into a beautiful yet treacherous moment in Texan history, News of the World goes much deeper than a travelogue. Across the miles, the tragic characters discover the power of empathy to leap differences in age, language, experience and loss. Although the book is barely 200 pages, it paints a picture of great historical and personal complexity. If you’re looking for some armchair traveling this summer, News of the World is a journey worth taking – and it comes with a map!

Available in print, large print,audio CD,  ebook, and eaudio, as well as DVD.

Jean B. is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. A fan of historical fiction and nonfiction, she also enjoys exploring the natural world through books and on foot.