From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality

Synopsis

Do Supreme Court decisions matter? In 1896 the United States Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that railroad segregation laws were permissible under the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1954 the Court's decision in Brown v. the Board of Education held that the same constitutional provision invalidated statutes segregating public schools How great an impact did judicial rulings such as Plessy and Brown have? How much did such Court decisions influence the larger world of race relations? In From Jim Crow to Civil Rights, Michael J. Klarman examines the social and political impact of the Supreme Court's decisions involving race relations from Plessy, the Progressive Era, and the Interwar Period to World Wars I and II, Brown and the Civil Rights Movement. He explores the wide variety of consequences that Brown may have had--raising the salience of race issues, educating opinion, mobilizing supporters, energizing opponents of racial change. He concludes that Brown was ultimately more important for mobilizing southern white opposition to racial change than for encouraging direct-action protest. The decision created concrete occasions for violent confrontation--court ordered school desegregation and radicalized southern politics, leading to the election of politicians who calculated that violent suppression of civil rights demonstrations would win votes. It was such violence--vividly captured on television--that ultimately transformed northern opinion on race, leading to the enactment of landmark civil rights legislation in the mid 1960s. A fascinating investigation of the Supreme Court's rulings on race, From Jim Crow to Civil Rights, spells out in exhaustive detail the political and social context against which the Supreme Court Justices operate and the consequences of those decisions on the civil rights movement and beyond.

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