Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward~★★★★1/2

Author: C. Vann Woodward
Title: The Strange Career of Jim Crow
Release Date: Originally released in 1955; this edition released in 2001
Publisher: Oxford University Press (2001 edition)
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Jacket:  "C. Vann Woodward, who died in 1999 at the age of 91, was America's most eminent Southern historian, the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Mary Chesnut's Civil War and a Bancroft Prize for The Origins of the New South. Now, to honor his long and truly distinguished career, Oxford is pleased to publish this special commemorative edition of Woodward's most influential work.
The Strange Career of Jim Crow is one of the great works of Southern history. Indeed, the book actually helped shape that history. Published in 1955, a year after the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education ordered schools desegregated, Strange Career was cited so often to counter arguments for segregation that Martin Luther King, Jr., called it 'the historical Bible of the civil rights movement.' The book offers a clear and illuminating analysis of the history of Jim Crow laws, presenting evidence that segregation in the South dated only to the 1890s. Woodward convincingly shows that, even under slavery, the two races had not been divided as they were under Jim Crow laws of the 1890s. In fact, during Reconstruction, there was considerable economic and political mixing of the races. The segregating of the races was a relative newcomer to the region. 
Hailed as one of the top 100 nonfiction works of the twentieth century, The Strange Career of Jim Crow has sold almost a million copies and remains, in the words of David Herbert Donald, 'a landmark in the history of American race relations."

Taryn's Review: I'll keep this short and sweet since I'm furiously reading for my upcoming exams (eek!). C. Vann Woodward's argument  in this book is that Jim Crow laws were not enacted during Reconstruction in the post-Civil War South, but after Reconstruction ended, about 1877. He argued that fear, jealously, proscription, hatred, and fanaticism had always been there, but the forces or authorities that kept those feelings "in-check," so to speak, were weakened after new authorities moved into power after 1877 (chapter 3). Woodward pointed out that blacks voted in large numbers up until 1900, when threats against blacks from whites made it dangerous for blacks to cast their votes.

Another aspect that Woodward talked about WWII's influence on the eventual breakdown of Jim Crow laws and rising of the Civil Rights movement. How could America in good faith liberate a group of people who were horrifically mistreated, abused, and slaughtered in Europe only to ignore the atrocities that were also being acted out against a segment of American society? Amazingly, the book was written in 1955 with such great clarity it doesn't feel like the book was written during a time when Jim Crow laws were enforced in many areas of the South. And to boot, C. Vann Woodward was a Southerner himself. This book revolutionized how historians viewed Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws and to this day is still relevant and required reading for many students of history.

If you are really interested in the post-Civil War South and race relations, give this book a try. The book is not the easiest to read, but if you take your time while reading to understand what Woodward's overall messages are, you'll be happy you did.

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