C. Vann Woodward's The Strange Career Of Jim Crow

1502 words - 6 pages

C. Vann Woodward's The Strange Career Of Jim Crow

C. Vann Woodward illuminates one of the “ugliest” aspects of American societal history in his book The Strange Career of Jim Crow. His book is an overview of the development of the Jim Crow system, a set of racist laws put in place around the turn of the nineteenth century. Interestingly his book tracks the evolution of racism throughout American history. He not only shows where and when racism is developing but the different ways that the racism manifested itself in the North and South.

C. Vann Woodward published the first edition of his book in 1955, while the racial atmosphere was in a tumultuous state. Black Americans at the time were still suffering from the effects of the Supreme Court Decision Plessy vs. Ferguson from 1896, the “separate but equal” distinction of the law. His book is published in the heat of these debates and racial struggle, posing the question how complete his book could be. He then republishes the book three more times, his second revised edition was published in 1966, his third in 1974, and the last in 2001. The book is based on lectures which he delivered at the University of Virginia in 1954. With every revision, he includes more evidence for arguments and responds to literary criticism. With the Civil Rights Movement raging around him, Woodward sought to explain the way the environment had come to be the way it was.

In 1955 the Montgomery bus boycott was occurring as Woodward’s book was being published. With his first edition of the book, some of the most notable events of the civil rights movement had not yet occurred, Rosa Parks had not refused to give up her seat on the bus, the desegregation of schools was just beginning, and Martin Luther King Jr. had not yet achieved much of his work. Because Woodward’s book was published originally before all of these events, there was much literary criticism to which he then later replies in his following editions. In his preface to his first edition, he lays out what he is attempting to do. He says “Few have any idea of the relative recency of the Jim Crow laws, or any clear notion of how, when, and why the system arose.” (p. xvi) In his book he seems to be explaining the system and where he believes it arose. With that though comes the responsibility of including all of the facts, which Woodward attempts to do through his revisions.

He publishes his second revised edition in 1966, three years after Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. The civil rights movement is now in full swing and his second edition is much more complete than his first. He acknowledges the faults of his first edition stating, “The intervening years of social upheaval and political travail since 1955 have inevitably altered the perspective from which the earlier history was viewed.” (p.ix) Woodward’s third edition is published in 1974, and in his preface he again allows for the changing times. Though in this edition, he does...

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