Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin's 1946 autobiography The Making of a Southerner is considered a classic testament of a white southerner's commitment to racial justice in a culture where little was to be found. Lumpkin's unpublished novel Eli Hill, which was discovered in Lumpkin's papers after her death, contributes to the same struggle by imaginatively re-creating a historical figure and a moment in the violent white resistance to Reconstruction.
Born to enslaved parents in York County, South Carolina, Elias Hill (1819-1872) learned to read and write and became a popular Baptist minister. Owing to his influence, Hill was one of many victims of a series of vicious attacks by the Ku Klux Klan. After testifying before a congressional committee that emigration was the only solution, Hill and 135 other formerly enslaved people emigrated to Liberia.
Lumpkin had trained as a sociologist and historian to use archival sources and data in arguing for socioeconomic change. In her autobiography, she uses the lens of an individual life, her own, to understand how racism was inculcated in white children and how they could free themselves from its grip. With Eli Hill, she turns to imagination, informed by archival research, to put an African American man at the center of a story about Reconstruction. In curating this important work of historical recovery for use in the classroom, Bruce Baker and Jacquelyn Dowd Hall have included the full text of the original manuscript and an introduction that contextualizes the novel in both its historical setting and its creation.