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
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There was, in fact, a great deal of contact between whites and blacks in the slave South. Instead, he argues, the Jim Crow system of “white supremacy, Negro subordination, and racial segregation” originated in the North, and emancipation led to increased separation of the races. The established system of segregation in the North moved to the South during and after Reconstruction. However, Reconstruction was, he argues, a unique period in history during which each race was figuring out its place in the new social system, and can therefore not be related to either the era of slavery or of Jim Crow. Instead, during Reconstruction, there were alternatives which Woodward argues are often forgotten. Before their attitudes became degrading, whites were more paternalistic towards blacks. He ensures that he is by no means arguing that this was a “golden age of race relations”, however, he does argue that “the era of stiff conformity and fanatical rigidity that was to come had not yet closed in and shut off all contact between the races…[and] there were still real choices to be made.”

Though it is easy to assume that the transition to the extremely racist era of Jim Crow was due to a conversion of opinion, Woodward argues that it was instead due to a decrease in opposition. He states that “Just as the Negro gained his emancipation and new rights through a falling out between white men, he now stood to lose his rights through the reconciliation of white
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