Essay about The Historical Bible Of The Civil Rights Movement

Essay about The Historical Bible Of The Civil Rights Movement

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This slim volume, referred to by Martin Luther King as "the historical bible of the Civil Rights movement," makes a compelling case that the Jim Crow system of racial legislation that dominated the South was not a natural outgrowth of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, or even Redemption, but rather a haphazard creation of Southern whites in the last decade of the nineteenth century.

Woodward begin his series of lectures by nothing that, although an early form of Jim Crow-type legislation could be found in the cities of the antebellum North ("One of the strangest things about the career of Jim Crow was that the system was born in the North and reached an advanced age before moving South in force"), race relations in the nineteenth-century South were more often than not characterized by intermingling and close contact. (17) "In most aspects of slavery as practiced in the ante-bellum South," he notes, "segregation would have been an inconvenience and an obstruction to the functioning of the system. The very nature of the institution made separation of the races for the most part impracticable." (12) Similarly, while some elements of Jim Crow showed up during Reconstruction (such as the separation of churches and segregation of public schools), "race relations during Reconstruction could not be said to have crystallized or stabilized nor to have become what they later became. There were too many cross currents and contradictions, revolutionary innovations and violent reactions...for a time old and new rubbed shoulders -- and so did black and white -- in a manner that differed significantly from Jim Crow of the future or slavery of the past." (25, 26)

In fact, Woodward, argues, even Redemption didn 't herald the onset of Jim Cr...


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...e same for public education in Brown v. Board of Education. Later editions of the book cover the profound accomplishments of the civil rights movement and the later rise of black nationalism, which suggests for Woodward that African-Americans themselves must choose the extent and means of integration into white society. For "after the legal end of Jim Crow, the emancipated were expected to shed not only such distinctions as they abhorred but those distinctions they cherished as essential to their identity. They found that they were unable to rid themselves fully of the former and unable wholly to abandon the latter."(220) Thus, amid these competing desires for integration and separation that define modern race relations, argues Woodward in his now-pessimistic close, the strange career of Jim Crow looked to get somewhat stranger before it came to its final retirement.

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