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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Book Club on "The Ghost of Jim Crow"

Next week Prawfs will be hosting a book club on Anders Walker's "The Ghost of Jim Crow."  Walker's book examines the legacy of Southern moderates in the post-Brown era and describes how their tactics quietly effectuated continued resistance to the civil rights movement.  The club begins on February 17 and will run through the end of the week.  Contributing to the club will be:

  • Willoughby Anderson, Law Clerk for Senior Judge John T. Nixon, United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.  Willoughby received her J.D. from Berkeley and her Ph.D. in History from UNC.
  • Alfred Brophy, Reef C. Ivey II Professor of Law at UNC School of Law.  Al is a well-known figure to the blawgosphere; you can read his fascinating posts on Southern history and monuments over at the Faculty Lounge.
  • Christopher Schmidt, Assistant Professor, Chicago-Kent College of Law.  Chris is also a Visiting Scholar at the American Bar Foundation.

I'll also be chipping in a few thoughts from the non-historian's perspective, and Anders will join in with his thoughts as well.  Anders is an Assistant Professor at Saint Louis University School of Law.

Here's more about the book from Oxford:

In "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Martin Luther King, Jr. asserted that "the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice." To date, our understanding of the Civil Rights era has been largely defined by high-profile public events such as the crisis at Little Rock high school, bus boycotts, and sit-ins-incidents that were met with massive resistance and brutality. The resistance of Southern moderates to racial integration was much less public and highly insidious, with far-reaching effects. The Ghost of Jim Crow draws long-overdue attention to the moderate tactics that stalled the progress of racial equality in the South.

Anders Walker explores how three moderate Southern governors formulated masked resistance in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. J. P. Coleman in Mississippi, Luther Hodges in North Carolina, and LeRoy Collins in Florida each developed workable, lasting strategies to neutralize black political activists and control white extremists. Believing it possible to reinterpret Brown on their own terms, these governors drew on creative legal solutions that allowed them to perpetuate segregation without overtly defying the federal government. Hodges, Collins, and Coleman instituted seemingly neutral criteria--academic, economic, and moral--in place of racial classifications, thereby laying the foundations for a new way of rationalizing racial inequality. Rather than focus on legal repression, they endorsed cultural pluralism and uplift, claiming that black culture was unique and should be preserved, free from white interference. Meanwhile, they invalidated common law marriages and cut state benefits to unwed mothers, then judged black families for having low moral standards. They expanded the jurisdiction of state police and established agencies like the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission to control unrest. They hired black informants, bribed black leaders, and dramatically expanded the reach of the state into private life. Through these tactics, they hoped to avoid violent Civil Rights protests that would draw negative attention to their states and confirm national opinions of the South as backward. By crafting positive images of their states as tranquil and free of racial unrest, they hoped to attract investment and expand southern economic development. In reward for their work, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson appointed them to positions in the federal government, defying notions that Republicans were the only party to absorb southern segregationists and stall civil rights.

An eye-opening approach to law and politics in the Civil Rights era, The Ghost of Jim Crow looks beyond extremism to highlight some of the subversive tactics that prolonged racial inequality.

We hope you will join us next week for the club.

Posted by Matt Bodie on February 11, 2010 at 11:41 AM in Books | Permalink

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