We need more public officials like Bill Keyserling -- ones who understand the importance of promoting public understanding of our common history, and especially the often misunderstood yet crucial and inspiring era known as Reconstruction. Issues that roil our politics today -- who should be a citizen, who should vote, what is the relationship between political and economic democracy -- and many more, are Reconstruction questions. Sharing Common Ground expertly interweaves Keyserling's own family and personal history with the history of the Beaufort area, ground zero for Reconstruction in South Carolina, where recently freed slaves achieved a remarkable degree of political power and economic progress. The reader gets a full sense of the reasons for his passion for bringing the story of Reconstruction to students and visitors, via the new Reconstruction Era National Historical Park. Knowledge of Reconstruction can be a step in making America a more just society.
When President Obama and I discussed and planned the Reconstruction Era National Park, we knew it would succeed in revealing the lost history of that era only if we could find local acceptance and implementation. Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling, a long time friend, has put together precisely the kind of creative programs with local partners to realize our joint mission to teach the acts of heroism that created what he wisely calls the Second Founding of America. His personal leadership and contributions have my deep appreciation and hopes for continuing what we, together, can do to translate the lessons of the past to a brighter future for generations to come.
Billy Keyserling’s insightful self-examination to find and follow his moral compass is a must read. His focus is on assembling and connecting a network of teachers and students to learn and teach the largely the untold stories of what freed slaves were able to achieve during the amazing but largely overlooked era in American history known as “Reconstruction” immediately following the Civil War.
Freedmen fought in the Union Army to liberate their enslaved brothers and sisters. They learned to read and write, became craftsmen and productive entrepreneurs, started six colleges and universities in SC alone, achieved the right to vote and served in public office as Americans ... until the Jim Crow era largely wiped those truths out of our textbooks.
As a young black student, I was never taught in school about the phenomenal achievements of freed African American slaves. I’m blessed to have been raised by educated parents who taught me the truth about what my predecessors from Africa had accomplished after the Civil War. My father, Cleveland Sellers, became a civil rights leader, himself.
Mayor Billy argues persuasively that today’s generations should be learning this real but largely un-taught history in our schools. Read this important book! Then join a new quest for fairness and truth in our educational curricula ... which will help our society to find and share common ground, making this a better world for us all.
Reconstruction made possible significant achievements – freedom, birthright citizenship, the right to vote – for America’s former African slaves. Many of them, through sheer grit and passion, went on to create schools, develop successful businesses and make other significant contributions to our nation. Unfortunately, those achievements were wiped out in the Jim Crow era and their stories have been left untold through the generations of structural racism that have beset us. Billy Keyserling’s book is coming to us at the right time with the right message: learn about and celebrate the untold success stories of this important part of America’s history. They may help us address the racial issues that confront us today.
We should all read this book and join with Billy to bring the Reconstruction experience to a wide American audience.
Billy Keyserling, A white southern gentleman and Mayor of Beaufort, "South Carolina's Prettiest town” has taken it upon himself to spearhead a new kind of revolution for reparations. Thus, for a people brought to America to be enslaved for 400 years. A battle cry for a people who face racism and discrimination daily. I applaud his perseverance in getting the job where Black Lives Matter is long overdue.
The history of Beaufort County, South Carolina, is essential to the history of the United States Civil War. The blueprint for reconstructing the South, implemented in this district held by Union troops throughout the war, is part of my own family story as a Gullah Geechee native on St. Helena Island, across the bridge from downtown Beaufort. Billy Keyserling gives us a passionate and personal illumination of the Reconstruction Era, its complicated history as a part of the Southern story, and why this story must be preserved. Billy weaves together his family’s journey and his role in governance — along with his leadership in helping Beaufort County become a National Historic park. He helps us understand the significance of this unique designation, as we begin to build community and acknowledge our shared cultural past.
All too often around us, we see and hear examples of the turmoil our cities and citizens are facing. Despite the best efforts of many, each new day reveals stubborn cultural challenges related to diversity and institutional racism. What can we do to better live our own values as the home of democracy?
In pondering that question, I am greatly encouraged by the experiences Mayor Billy Keyserling offers in this important book. Unfortunately, though, 150 years of being taught untruths about a people cannot be corrected overnight just by reading an insightful book.
Events like the dreadful deaths of George Floyd and many others incite our momentary concern. But those incidents have failed to help us achieve the change and mutual understanding to help us better live the promise of America.
Billy is headed in the right direction: a tomorrow where justice, equality, opportunity and civility are collaboratively translated into common ground enjoyed by all. That vision can be achieved only by sharing the common ground of knowing from the truths of our past.
That means recruiting teachers, students and parents to participate in the exciting and game-changing journey ahead. I plan to join and unequivocally support initiatives to add into our classrooms the largely untold stories of what Africans achieved during Reconstruction after finally gaining their freedom from slavery. Then, however, they found the promises of freedom unfulfilled and became trapped as they still are today. Only by acknowledging this full history can we move forward as a nation united.
I hope you will read this book and then find even your own small ways to right the wrongs of yesterday by learning the untruths and finding the truths.
Sharing Common Ground is an outstanding book for all Americans to read as a template for what can happen in communities and regions all over the country in the same way that Billy Keyserling and his partners bought change to South Carolina by saving its historic places both to tell their important stories and to revitalize communities in which they resided. I first met Billy when we worked next door to each other on Capitol Hill, but later our paths crossed many years later when he invited me to visit Penn Center and showed me one of the first, if not the first, school for former slaves during the Civil War and where Martin Luther king, Jr. and his colleagues held retreats during the civil rights era. Penn Center was an essential part of the broader place including Beaufort, where Billy is mayor, that he and Rep. Jim Clyburn and others helped persuade President Obama to declare a national monument marking the Reconstruction era. It’s all in this wonderful new book full of inspiring stories of how saving important places of the past can be relevant to the present and the future, and of how leadership like Billy’s can make a big difference in making it happen.
Due to racist ideologies, Reconstruction is perceived by many as a total failure in all respects. Most historians writing in the late 19th to the mid-20th century were unable to separate fact from fiction. In addition, those who murdered, intimidated and took control by the end of the period worked furiously to destroy a balanced narrative. Keyserling’s research, personal and family history of Beaufort during Reconstruction to the current Reconstruction Era National Historic Park efforts, allow us to better understand the central theme of the debate during and after Reconstruction--the efforts of African-Americans to breathe full meaning into their newly acquired “freedom” by prodding all Americans to live up to the noble professions of the Constitution. Keyserling’s undertaking of writing about the past and future work with the Park, will advance capturing sins of omission and provide models for completing the unfinished work toward a more just nation that started with Reconstruction in Beaufort, SC in 1861.