Essay on The Strange Career of Jim Crow

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The Strange Career of Jim Crow

C. Vann Woodward’s book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, has been hailed as a book which shaped our views of the history of the Civil Rights Movement and of the American South. Martin Luther King, Jr. described the book as “the historical Bible of the civil rights movement.” The argument presented in The Strange Career of Jim Crow is that the Jim Crow laws were relatively new introductions to the South that occurred towards the turn of the century rather than immediately after the end of Reconstruction after the Civil War. Woodward examines personal accounts, opinions, and editorials from the eras as well as the laws in place at the times. He examines the political history behind the emergence of
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The very slave- holding society that the South emerged from made it more able to accept African Americans living among whites. However, this was not true in all the classes. Many lower class and rural southern whites viewed the newly freed African Americans much more harshly than their wealthier counterparts. In regard to sharing a railroad car, one white man stated that he would rather be seated next to a respectable African American rather than a rowdy, lower- class white man.

There were very few Jim Crow laws in existence in the South before the 1890s. Before that, African Americans could, theoretically, be seated in trains and buses with whites, as well as attend the same places of entertainment and stay at the same hotels. Woodward demonstrates this by using the accounts of one African American reporter from the North who traveled south to see if there was prejudice against him in public accommodations, and was surprised that he could find no difference in the way that he was treated in the South than the way he was treated in New England. In the end, the reporter stopped corresponding as he could find nothing incriminating to say about his treatment in the South.

Living arrangements, especially in Southern cities, also greatly affected the attitude of
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