Denmark Vesey’s Garden

Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy


Denmark Vesey’s Garden uses the small place of Charleston, South Carolina, to tell a large tale, what we remember of history and what we prefer to forget. It is a fascinating and unflinching performance, showing that all of American history can inhabit a few greying square miles.”

— Edward Ball, National Book Award–winning author of Slaves in the Family


Denmark Vesey's Garden Book Cover

A book that strikes at the source of the recent flare-ups over Confederate symbols in Charlottesville, New Orleans, and elsewhere, Denmark Vesey’s Garden reveals the deep roots of these controversies and traces them to the capital of slavery in the United States: Charleston, South Carolina, where almost half of the slaves brought to the U.S. stepped onto our shores, where the first shot at Fort Sumter began the Civil War, and where Dylann Roof murdered nine people at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, which was co-founded by Denmark Vesey, a black revolutionary who plotted a massive slave insurrection in 1822.


As early as 1865, former slaveholders and their descendants began working to construct a romanticized memory of the antebellum South. In contrast, former slaves, their descendants, and some white allies have worked to preserve an honest, unvarnished account of slavery as the cruel system it was.


Examining public rituals, controversial monuments, and competing musical traditions, Denmark Vesey’s Garden tracks these two rival memories from the Civil War to recent decades—when a segregated tourism industry reflecting these opposing visions of the past took hold in the popular vacation destination. Denmark Vesey’s Garden exposes a hidden dimension of America’s deep racial divide, joining the small bookshelf of major, paradigm-shifting interpretations of slavery’s enduring legacy in the United States.

Available online and at your favorite booksellers

Fig 53-Chevaux at Miles Brewton-by authors-June 2017

“Eye-opening history...the authors offer a richly detailed, vivid re-creation of the entire era...

An important and fascinating examination of American slavery’s aftermath.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review) 

“Kytle and Roberts’s combination of encyclopedic knowledge of Charleston’s history and empathy with its inhabitants’ past and present struggles make them ideal guides to this troubled history.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[A] fascinating and important new historical study" that "examines...the place where the ways slavery is remembered mattered most."

Janet Maslin, New York Times


“Denmark Vesey’s Garden reveals that the long struggle over how Americans remember slavery has been inseparable from the long struggle for racial justice.”

— Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award–winning author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

“Nothing has shaped this nation more than slavery and its legacy. Kytle and Roberts’s meticulous research, compelling writing, and thoughtful analysis are vital to our nation at a time when we were haunted by a history we need to understand more deeply.”

— Bryan Stevenson, New York Times bestselling author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

“Ethan Kytle and Blain Roberts remind us that the cost of whitewashing the history of racial enslavement and its legacies continues to be too great a burden to bear for American democracy. For any reader interested in current political debates over Civil War memory and monuments, this book is a must-read.”

— Manisha Sinha, Frederick Douglass Book Prize–winning author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition

“Denmark Vesey’s Garden will have enormous implications for the entire country.”

— Douglas R. Egerton, Lincoln Prizewinning author of Thunder at the Gates

"[A] work that, for the first time, maps competing memories of slavery from abolition to the very recent struggle to rename or remove Confederate symbols across the country."  

— The New Republic

"[A]n exceptionally well-written work" that "deserves a wide readership. This is more than a book about the city of Charleston. It is indeed a story about the ways in which our nation has tried to come to grips with its original sin."   

— Providence Journal

“Readers are drawn into a community where the shadows of slavery are ever-present and white and black Charlestonians jockey for influence over whether and how those shadows are acknowledged.”

— Fitzhugh Brundage, William B. Umstead Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Kytle and Roberts’s engaging style will remind readers of Edward Ball’s work, Slaves in the Family, providing a new window onto the Charleston past and delivering an important message for the present.”

— Catherine Clinton, Denman Chair of American History, University of Texas, San Antonio, and president, Southern Historical Association

A "fascinating study.. particularly timely and important....[T]hose who read it will not just learn how the institution [of slavery] has been remembered but also wrestle with the ramification of America’s slave past for its present and future.”

— Gaines Foster, Civil War Book Review

"[A] timely, well-researched, and deftly argued intervention with both scholarly and public importance...that will inform the future directions of southern studies, tourism studies, and scholarship on the memory of slavery and even the Civil War."

Hilary Green, Tropics of Meta 

“[A] timely look at America’s contested past…Strongly recommended for anyone interested in or hoping to understand more about Southern history, especially the ongoing debate over the representation of slavery and the Confederacy.”

— Library Journal

[A] stunning contribution...this book speaks to the present as eloquently as it narrates the past."

— Civil War Times

"A new incisive history" that "explores the willful blindness toward 'America’s original sin' among some white Charlestonians....[T]his book achieved what books do best: It bridged a gap in... understanding in ways no other medium could."

— Chicago Tribune

“[A] clear and unflinching look at Charleston, ‘the capital of slavery.’ and the histories that that institution spawned.” 

Michael Boulware Moore, CEO, International African American Museum

"A must read. One of the best Civil War memory studies that I have read in quite some time."

— Kevin M. Levin, award–winning historian and proprietor of popular Civil War Memory blog

"[A] rigorous and timely study....Those wanting to understand why Charleston, a city intent on claiming the mantle of 'America’s Most Historic City,' could be so inclined to ignore or whitewash certain aspects of its past can look no further than Denmark Vesey’s Garden." 

Black Perspectives