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Essay 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
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The point, therefore, is that the North was “not in the best position to instruct the South, either by precedent and example, or by force of conviction, on the implementation of what eventually became one of the professed war aims of the Union cause – racial equality” (21). The reason as to why Jim Crow laws came about in the South came to hold so much power during their life has to do with a waning of the forces that had long held the Southern racists in check. The elements of fear, jealousy, and fanaticism were allowed to rise to prominence when such forces as Northern liberal opinions in the press and the higher levels of government, internal checks instituted by the Southern conservatives and idealistic radicals. “What happened toward the end of the century was an almost simultaneous – and sometimes not unrelated – decline in the effectiveness of restraint that had been exercised by all three forces: Northern liberalism, Southern conservatism, and Southern radicalism” (69). Northern liberalism’s power waned with the Supreme Court’s decisions such as Hall v. de Cuir in 1877 which stated that a state could not prohibit segregation, or Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 which the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine was clearly established (72-73). Southern conservatism, previously one of the newly freed Negroes’ greatest allies in the South after the war, changed their tune when they had to eradicate the carpetbaggers in the South. They needed the extreme racist
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