Woodward, C. Vann. The Strange Career of Jim Crow: Third Revised Edition.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1947. Précis John C. McKnight October 28, 2008 C. Vann Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow: Third Revised Edition is a history of American race relations. In order to show this, Woodward gives a detailed account of racial history from slavery to the end of the Civil Rights Movement. He establishes this detailed account by using slavery, Reconstruction, Redemption, the establishment of the Jim Crow South, the Civil Rights Movement, and the period right after the end of the Jim Crow laws. The book was originally published in 1955 and has been revised to include the end of the Civil Rights Movement. Woodward argues that, since the end of the Jim Crow laws in 1965, both whites and blacks have demanded integration and separation and that he questions whether these demands will ever get the satisfaction they require.1 He also uses significant research of scholarly works to argue that both emancipations, slavery and civil rights, had benefits and victimization in common. According to Woodward, “both these abolitions left the beneficiaries still suffering under handicaps inflicted by the system abolished.”2 Woodward begins with the time period of slavery to Reconstruction to explain how American race relations originated. He uses slavery and Reconstruction to explain how
segregation had already started to exist during times before the black codes and Jim Crow Laws. For example, he states that there was a “pattern of segregation in some of the larger cities of the slave states” and that Jim Crow was born in the North before it even occurred in the South. 3 He then goes on to explain how, for a short period after the Civil War, race relations were actually at
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peace. For example, he states that “for a time old and new rubbed shoulders and so did black and white in a manner differently from Jim Crow of the future and slavery of the past.”4 Woodward then goes on to explain the period of time when the Redeemers took over Reconstruction and based it on Home Rule and white supremacy. In order to explain this he uses the three alternative philosophies to Jim Crow. They included conservative, southern radical and liberal philosophies. The conservative philosophy believed that the “Negro” was inferior and subordinate, but did deserve the protected rights. They also did not believe in segregation. The conservative philosophy also had two subdivisions, the Negrophile and the Negrophobe. The Negrophiles were false friends who used the elevating of blacks and their downfalls to reap the benefits and Negrophobes were those who were satisfied with Home Rule and white supremacy. The southern radical consisted of the Populists and they preached a new equalitarian party platform and they believed that if the two races worked together they would be successful. The liberal philosophy believed that there could not be a successful government without equality. Woodward explains how all these attempts to settle race relations in the South failed and that the policies of disfranchisement, segregation, and proscription evolved later. Woodward then explains the process by which Jim Crow was established. He explains how the weakening of forces that held together a median of racial tension led to the beginning of the emergence of Jim Crow. Northern opinion was shifting away from the former abolitionist mind-set and he explains how “just as the Negro gained his emancipation…through a falling out between white men, he now stood to lose his rights through the reconciliations of white men.”5 Woodward states that these reconciliations were fueled by court cases (Plessy v. Ferguson), imperialism and the idea of the “White Man’s Burden”, financial scandals within the
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conservative party, racial politics, economic policies and alliances, and the downfall of the Populists party. Woodward then goes on to explain how disfranchisement, proscription, and segregation were all established after the restoration of white supremacy in the South. For example, literacy tests, poll taxes, and white primaries were adopted to prevent the black vote; propaganda made the “Negro” look like an uncivilized beast; and literary works all reflected the idea of white supremacy. He then explains how all this led to an ideology that folkways and mores cannot be changed by law and that all of these things led to a pessimistic view of the “Negro” and eventually the Jim Crow laws. 6 Woodward then explains how southern race relations were becoming the American way. He gives examples of Jim Crow laws and explains the status of these laws during the early 1900’s. He explains that it was not until the 1930’s that racial tension began to slow down a little and that this occurred because of the Great Depression causing the “majority of both races joining the same political party.”7 Woodward then goes on to explain how the Civil Rights Movement began with the emergence of black agitators and organizations (N.A.A.C.P.), a humanitarian movement (Harlem Renaissance), religious movements (social gospel), an increase in legislative bills, a political party change (Republican to Democrat), an increase in status of blacks, propaganda tools from World War II (association between Nazi and South), an international struggle of segregation, and the Cold War (Russia tried to use segregation to create a bad international perception of United States). He then explains how all these events helped
lead to the Second Reconstruction and Civil Rights Movement.
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Woodward then goes on to explain how Jim Crow laws died in the South. He uses the presidential attempts of Truman, Eisenhower (or lack of in his case), Kennedy and Johnson to explain the federal government’s attempts at ending segregation. On the other hand he uses people like Martin Luther King, Jr., and events like the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical ‘sit-in’ to explain how the “Negro” race fought for their rights. He also gives in depth explanations of the struggles that occurred during this time period, including race riots, police assaults, marches, arrest, death and injury. To conclude, Woodward explains how, even after the Jim Crow laws were abolished crimes against “Negroes” still occurred and that in some places in the Deep South segregation was still practiced. He also questions whether or not the problem will ever be solved. Both sides of this racial tension are now demanding separation and integration. It seems that Woodward has foreseen the continuing problem of racial tensions still occurring even today. C. Vann Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow: Third Revised Edition is an excellent book for a history of American race relations during its time. He has created an extensively accurate display of the past and has provided a scholarly source. He not only has portrayed a great source for American race relations, but has also shown the reader a different side to northern ideas about these relations. Instead of stereotyping that all northern people are not racists and southerners are, Woodward allows the reader to keep an open mind and see that this is not always essentially true. Finally, Woodward has provided the reader with the history of a paradoxical concept that is still a major issue today, racism.