A Review of The Strange Career of Jim Crow

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A Review of The Strange Career of Jim Crow

C. Vann Woodward’s most famous work, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, was written in 1955. It chronicles the birth, formation, and end of Jim Crow laws in the Southern states. Often, the Jim Crow laws are portrayed as having been instituted directly after the Civil War’s end, and having been solely a Southern brainchild. However, as Woodward, a native of Arkansas points out, the segregationist Jim Crow laws and policies were not fully a part of the culture until almost 1900. Because of the years of lag between the Civil War/Reconstruction eras and the integration and popularity of the Jim Crow laws, Woodward advances that these policies were not a normal reaction to the loss of the war by Southern whites, but a result of other impetuses central to the time of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The earliest system of segregation can be found, interestingly enough, not in the South but in the North. This system, “with the backing of legal and extra-legal codes…permeated all aspects of Negro life in the free states by 1860” (Woodward 18). In the North, blacks were separated from whites in nearly every social aspect of their lives: they sat apart from whites in theatres and concert halls, they were often completely excluded from hotels, restaurants, and resorts (unless they entered as workers), worshipped in all black pews or even sometimes in completely black churches. If they intended to receive Communion with the whites, they were forced to wait until the whites had completed the sacrament. They were even buried in separate cemeteries (18-19). It is also interesting, as Woodward notes, that those who opposed the northern system were usually unable to make any headw...

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...isely. This book has been extremely influential in the world of academia and the thinking on the subject of segregation and race relations in both the North and the South, but more importantly, it has influenced race relations in practice since it was first published. However, Woodward’s work is not all perfect. Although he does present his case thoroughly, he fails to mention the Negroes specifically as often as he might have. He more often relies on actions taken by whites as his main body of evidence, often totally leaving out the actions that may have been taken by the black community as a reaction to the whites’ segregationist policies.

Bibliography

Woodward, C. Vann. The Strange Career of Jim Crow. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

http://www.campusprogram.com/reference/en/wikipedia/c/c_/c__vann_woodward.html. s.v. C. Vann Woodward.
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