Jumpin' Jim Crow: Southern Politics from Civil War to Civil Rights

Article excerpt

Jumpin' Jim Crow: Southern Politics from Civil War to Civil Rights. Edited by JANE DAILEY, GLENDA ELIZABETH GILMORE, and BRYANT SIMON. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. xvi, 328 pp. $55.00 cloth; $17.95 paper.

THIS is a very important book. It might easily have been subtitled A Treatise on the New Southern Political History. The essays in it are important ones, and they hold together very well with the editors' overall theme: to provide a view of cutting-edge research in what may properly be called the "new southern political history."

The new southern political history, to its credit, acknowledges the central role of race and white supremacy in understanding the region's history. It also, by implication, reconfirms the importance and legitimacy of the idea of a distinctive southern region. Most importantly, though, the essays in this book, along with similar work in the field, expand the definition of what is "politics"-and thus what is fitting subject matter for the study of political history-- beyond the conventional concentration of historians on campaigns, elections, laws, parties, and newspaper editorials. The new political history expands the notion of politics to include gender relations, consumption and transportation patterns, and "political" events and relationships that occur outside the parameters traditionally utilized by southern historians. Consequently, the book contains a good deal of jargon: "spheres," public and private, abound along with terms such as public history, agency, whiteness, identity, space (again, both public and private), households, memory, and discourse. But this is a small price to pay for the increase in understanding wrought by these essays as representative of new trends in the study of what is southern politics. On a more fundamental level, a certain amount of jargon is unavoidable-even essential-in order to break the new ground.

Actually, it is somewhat of a marvel that it has taken this long for historians to broaden the traditional notion of what politics comprises. Social scientists have long worked with a more expansive definition. Almost every first-year political science or political sociology student is familiar with the definition of politics as "who gets what, when, and how?" as a starting point for political inquiry. The historians in this book are to be thanked, though, for spearheading the catching-up processand for taking us to a new level beyond this social scientific definition.

The editors and contributors are also to be congratulated for effectively laying out the various kinds of studies that make up the new political history without denigrating the old. One of the primary weaknesses of many of the "new histories" that have dotted the historiographical landscape since the 1960s-whether in social history, labor history, military history, or other fields-is the propensity of some of its practitioners to disparage the old in order to provide a foundation for the new. …