This essay reconsiders the politics of African American literature after the Civil War by focusing on revenge as a response to the wrong of slavery. Though forgiveness dominates literary and historical scholarship, I assemble an archive of real and imagined instances of vengeance in black-authored texts from the period following formal emancipation to the dawn of the twentieth century: the petitions of the freedmen of Edisto Island, South Carolina; the minutes of the 1865 Virginia State Convention of Colored People; the narrative of the ex-slave Samuel Hall; and the Colored American Magazine’s coverage of the lynching of Louis Wright. Reading these works alongside Pauline E. Hopkins’s Winona (1902), I show how her novel develops a philosophy of righteous revenge that reclaims the true meaning of justice in a democracy. Ultimately, this archive can help us not only to examine anew a neglected literary period but also to reimagine racial justice, then and now.

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