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Before Jim Crow

Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia

Jane Dailey
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    Before Jim Crow
    Book Description:

    Long before the Montgomery bus boycott ushered in the modern civil rights movement, black and white southerners struggled to forge interracial democracy in America. This innovative book examines the most successful interracial coalition in the nineteenth-century South, Virginia's Readjuster Party, and uncovers a surprising degree of fluidity in postemancipation southern politics.Melding social, cultural, and political history, Jane Dailey chronicles the Readjusters' efforts to foster political cooperation across the color line. She demonstrates that the power of racial rhetoric, and the divisiveness of racial politics, derived from the everyday experiences of individual Virginians--from their local encounters on the sidewalk, before the magistrate's bench, in the schoolroom. In the process, she reveals the power of black and white southerners to both create and resist new systems of racial discrimination. The story of the Readjusters shows how hard white southerners had to work to establish racial domination after emancipation, and how passionately black southerners fought each and every infringement of their rights as Americans.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0482-4
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xi)
    (pp. 1-14)

    InJazz,Toni Morrison’s novel set in the Harlem of the 1920s, the narrator fills in the past of the main characters, Violet and Joe Trace. They had come to the city from Virginia in the years just before the Great War, in search of diversion and anonymity, and to get away from want and white violence. When Violet was a child, the narrator tells us, her father had been forced to abandon his home and visit his family in secret because ‘‘he had been mixed in and up with the Readjuster Party, and when a verbal urging from the...

    (pp. 15-47)

    White southerners in the antebellum era liked to argue that racial slavery, far from being incompatible with democracy, was in fact the basis for equality among white men. ‘‘In this country alone does perfect equality of civil and social privilege exist among the white population, and it exists solely because we have black slaves,’’ lectured theRichmond Enquirerin 1856. ‘‘Freedom is not possible without slavery.’’¹ The constitutional history of the southern states reflected this view, although the ‘‘perfect equality’’ of whites trumpeted by theEnquirerwas never attained. In the 1810s and 1820s slave states in the South produced...

  6. 2 EXPANDING THE CIRCLE OF HONOR: The Politics of Patronage
    (pp. 48-76)

    William Mahone never intended to challenge white supremacy in Virginia. He did not mean to be, as he was later depicted by John Mercer Langston, a white Moses leading black Virginians out of the political wilderness they found themselves in after 1873.¹ But the 1880 national election revealed to Mahone a fundamental truth about politics in postwar Virginia: the path to enduring victory for the Readjusters ran through the black community.

    This reliance on the black vote was a fact of life for any party that hoped to challenge the Democrats in the postwar South. When federal Reconstruction ended in...

  7. 3 DRAWING THE LINE BETWEEN PUBLIC & PRIVATE: Sex, Schools, & Liberalism
    (pp. 77-102)

    As the battle over the Petersburg public schools shows, black Virginians made tangible gains under Readjuster rule. Yet black power in Petersburg, and in Virginia generally, had its limits. Despite considerable agitation on their part, African American Readjusters in the black-majority Fourth Congressional District, which included Petersburg, did not succeed in their quest to have a black man nominated in the 1882 congressional election.¹ Throughout the Readjuster years, white Virginians continued to dominate high office, they owned the lion’s share of property, and their sons alone attended the elite University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary. As...

    (pp. 103-131)

    As he finished his autobiographicalLanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter’s Son,William Alexander Percy—planter, writer, and (as he supposed) racial liberal and ‘‘friend of the Negro’’—fretted over the increasingly acrimonious state of race relations in the South. Published in 1941, just before the southern legal and cultural edifice of racial segregation and official white supremacy began to dissolve under the ideological strain of World War II,Lanterns on the Leveeincluded a ‘‘Note on Racial Relations’’ in which Percy worried about the erosion of black manners. Referring to white violence, he ‘‘noted that the Negro...

  9. 5 MAKING BLACK WHITE & WHITE BLACK: The Politics of Racial Identity
    (pp. 132-154)

    Classifications—social, racial, sexual—are constantly disputed in everyday social interactions and in the civic and political sphere. Danville’s citizens argued about such classifications on sidewalks. Other Virginians clashed in more esoteric settings. Legislation and court cases involving the definition and establishment of racial identity are two of the best vantage points from which to see classification in movement. Take the prominent example of Virginia’s various attempts to define ‘‘ nonwhite’’ for the purpose of antimiscegenation legislation. In 1705 a ‘‘mulatto’’ was said to possess at least one-eighth African ancestry. When the 1705 act was amended in 1785, the percentage...

  10. EPILOGUE: The Voice of the People
    (pp. 155-170)

    What lessons can we draw from the defeat of the Readjusters in 1883? Certainly the potency of race as a political issue cannot be denied. As one Richmond party leader concluded in December of that year, ‘‘There is no doubt that every issue was absorbed in the one issue, [the] Race issue.’’¹ But as this quotation makes clear, race was never experienced independently of other social relationships. It was always in flux, always connected with the articulation of other social categories. As I have tried to show throughout this book, the implications of race become clear only when they are...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 171-236)
    (pp. 237-268)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 269-278)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-280)