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Book Review of The Strange Career of Jim Crow

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Book Review of The Strange Career of Jim Crow

Prior to the 1950s, very little research had been done on the history and nature of the United States’ policies toward and relationships with African Americans, particularly in the South. To most historians, white domination and unequal treatment of Negroes were assumed to be constants of the political and social landscapes since the nation’s conception. Prominent Southern historian C. Vann Woodward, however, permanently changed history’s naïve understanding of race in America through his book entitled The Strange Career of Jim Crow. His provocative thesis explored evidence that had previously been overlooked by historians and gave a fresh foundation for more research on the topic of racial policies of the United States.

Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow immediately became an influential work both in the academic and real worlds because of the dramatic events that coincided with the book’s publication and subsequent revisions. It was inspired from a series of lectures that Woodward delivered at the University of Virginia in 1954 on the Jim Crow policies that the South had reverted to in order to deal with the dynamics of its Negro population. The original publication debuted in 1955, just prior to the explosive events that would occur as part of the civil rights movement climax. Because of these developments in less than a decade, the book’s topic and audience had drastically changed in regard to the times surrounding it. Woodward, realizing the fluidity of history in context with the age, printed a second edition of the book in 1966 to “take advantage of the new perspective the additional years provide” and “to add a brief account of the main developments in ...

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...w and believing that segregation was only a Southern problem. This displacement might have stemmed from Woodward’s wish to lighten the South’s blame and responsibility for the harsh legislation and treatment. Woodward also wrote and revised Strange Career during the many of the events that he was trying to explain. He was blinded by current events that biased his analysis of historical evidence. He even admitted that “the old edition had begun to suffer under some of the handicaps that might be expected in … a history of the First Reconstruction written in 1865.” Despite these limitations, C. Vann Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow served as an excellent source and piece of history about the Jim Crow laws and the civil rights movement. It helped to guide further research into the subject and uniquely influenced the events of which Woodward was writing.
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