Historians have focused almost entirely on the attempt by southern African Americans to attain equal rights during Reconstruction. However, the northern states also witnessed a significant period of struggle during these years. Northern blacks vigorously protested laws establishing inequality in education, public accommodations, and political life and challenged the Republican Party to live up to its stated ideals. In "We Will Be Satisfied With Nothing Less", Hugh Davis concentrates on the two issues that African Americans in the North considered most essential: black male suffrage rights and equal access to the public schools. Davis connects the local and the national; he joins the specifics of campaigns in places such as Cincinnati, Detroit, and San Francisco with the work of the National Equal Rights League and its successor, the National Executive Committee of Colored Persons. The narrative moves forward from their launching of the equal rights movement in 1864 to the "end" of Reconstruction in the North two decades later.
The struggle to gain male suffrage rights was the centerpiece of the movement's agenda in the 1860s, while the school issue remained a major objective throughout the period. Following the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, northern blacks devoted considerable attention to assessing their place within the Republican Party and determining how they could most effectively employ the franchise to protect the rights of all citizens.
"With this book, Hugh Davis demonstrates the importance of including the North, and especially northern African Americans, in any account of the Reconstruction era. It concisely and persuasively charts northern black activism on behalf of campaigns for universal male voting rights, access to public education, and the abolition of all racial and caste discrimination... Among the insights that Davis offers is the continuity in tactics and ideology that connected black northern activism before the Civil War with black activism later in the century... Written in crisp and clear prose, this book is a valuable addition to the crowded field of Reconstruction scholarship."-W. Fitzhugh Brundage, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (January 2013) "Hugh Davis's book is history as it should be written: clear, thorough, reliable, and informed. Connecting abolitionism to Reconstruction civil rights efforts, Davis breaks new ground by focusing on the North and the much neglected National Equal Rights League-and its many auxiliaries. He shows how black military service during the Civil War, grounded in abolitionism, became the foundation for the first modern civil rights movement and weaves a complicated story with clarity and impressive research. With this book, we can now fully appreciate how much the generation of the 1960s owed to the black leaders of the 1860s."-Donald Yacovone, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University "This latest work by Hugh Davis affords a stunning advance of our understanding of northern blacks' contribution to reconstruct America after 1865 on a foundation of greater justice and equality. Hugh Davis incorporates with insight and innovation the organizations and actions of the black North into the tableau of a Reconstruction understood far more accurately as woven into not only the South but also the nation as a whole."-Peter P. Hinks, author of To Awaken My Afflicted Brethren: David Walker and the Problem of Antebellum Slave Resistance "Thanks to Hugh Davis, for the first time in a half-century we have a synthetic account of the critical roles played by black northerners in the reconstruction of the region's political and educational life. Scholars and students alike owe him a debt of gratitude for so efficiently pulling together histories that have been for the most part ignored, forgotten, or treated in isolation from one another."-Stephen Kantrowitz, author of Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy "Building upon literature focusing on local movements, Davis makes a strong case for the ability of northern African American activists to overcome internal divisions and significant external challenges (especially tepid support from white Republicans) to champion male suffrage and civil rights legislation. Davis argues persuasively that despite comprising but 2 percent of the northern population during Reconstruction, African American organizations placed 'relentless pressure on the white power structure at all levels of government,' and as a result were able to achieve universal male suffrage and some important civil rights gains, especially greater access to public education. Recommended."-Choice "Davis contributes significantly to intensifying interest in moving beyond misplaced regionalism to understand the embedded power of racism nationwide in America... Davis nicely connects blacks' postwar activism with their antebellum abolitionism and their wartime military service."-Journal of American History