C. Vann Woodward's The Strange Career of Jim Crow Essay

C. Vann Woodward's The Strange Career of Jim Crow Essay

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C. Vann Woodward's The Strange Career of Jim Crow


In the field of history, it is rare that an author actually comes to shape the events discussed in their writing. However, this was the case for C. Vann Woodward and his book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow. First published in 1955, it discusses this history of race relations in America, more specifically the Jim Crow laws he equates with the segregation of races. Woodward argues that segregation itself was a fairly new development within the South, and did not begin until after Reconstruction ended. He further argues that since the South has seen so much change, citing the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the development of the Jim Crow laws, it is possible for more changes to occur in a movement away from segregation. Though to a modern reader this seems like a logical argument following the events of history as they occurred, it must be remembered that Woodward was writing during the time period in which all of this was happening and nothing was certain. As William S. McFeely states in his afterword, what Woodward “so modestly stated, was, in fact, a call for the overthrow of what was perceived to be the very grounding of Southern society.” Unlike most historians, Woodward wrote about segregation and the Civil Rights Movement with such proximity that he came to affect public opinion of the time period as well as the final outcome of events. Furthermore, Woodward wrote with what we can now see to be accurate foresight as well as with a clear understanding of historical writing and the challenges it can pose.

In order to support his argument that Jim Crow laws were not developed during the era of slavery in the South, the traditional belief, but rather later in ...


... middle of paper ...


...ctive. But someone has to make a beginning.”

Making a beginning is exactly what C. Vann Woodward accomplished with the publication of The Strange Career of Jim Crow. A Southerner, he rebelled against other interpretations, unafraid of provoking anger or disagreement during his era. It is his work which laid the groundwork for future publications and in turn greatly influenced Americans’ opinions of his era and thereafter. Any criticisms of his interpretations would be due to his inability to see the future, and these were usually mistakes he attempted to remedy through revisions and later publications of the book, which, in a true testament to its importance, has yet to go out of print. When the rare occurrence of a historical work affecting the course of history occurs, such as this one, the importance of both the work and the historian becomes clear.

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