The Retreats of Reconstruction: Race, Leisure, and the Politics of Segregation at the New Jersey Shore, 1865-1920

The Retreats of Reconstruction: Race, Leisure, and the Politics of Segregation at the New Jersey Shore, 1865-1920

The Retreats of Reconstruction: Race, Leisure, and the Politics of Segregation at the New Jersey Shore, 1865-1920

The Retreats of Reconstruction: Race, Leisure, and the Politics of Segregation at the New Jersey Shore, 1865-1920

Synopsis

Beginning in the 1880s, the economic realities and class dynamics of popular northern resort towns unsettled prevailing assumptions about political economy and threatened segregationist practices. Exploiting early class divisions, black working-class activists staged a series of successful protests that helped make northern leisure spaces a critical battleground in a larger debate about racial equality. While some scholars emphasize the triumph of black consumer activism with defeating segregation, Goldberg argues that the various consumer ideologies that first surfaced in northern leisure spaces during the Reconstruction era contained desegregation efforts and prolonged Jim Crow.

Combining intellectual, social, and cultural history, The Retreats of Reconstruction examines how these decisions helped popularize the doctrine of "separate but equal" and explains why the politics of consumption is critical to understanding the "long civil rights movement."

Excerpt

On July 23, 1893, an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer asked frustrated business owners and tourist promoters of Atlantic City “What are we going to do with our colored people?” Noting that “never before” had the resort community seemed “so overrun with the dark skinned race as this season,” Atlantic City and other popular northern resort destinations struggled throughout the Reconstruction era to contain the recreational activities and consumer demands of black pleasure seekers. As these struggles reveal, contests over segregation were not restricted to former plantation districts, northern legislatures, the workplace, or public transportation systems. in the late nineteenth century, the popularity of the New Jersey shore coincided with growing concerns over civil rights. On beaches and boardwalks, and inside amusement venues and hotel dining halls, African Americans’ claims for integrated leisure were imbedded in political debates over the meaning of race and the rights and health of consumers.

For the northern white tourists who visited the beach resorts of the New Jersey coast, summer vacations were not just valuable moments away from work or idle time to spend with family and friends. in the aftermath of the Civil War, many working-class whites imagined the Jersey shore as a retreat from the sordid politics of the Gilded Age, the regimentation of industrial order, and the turmoil of black civil rights activism. To these aspiring men and women, summer trips to the seashore offered political opportunities to replace the pretentious social boundaries of antebellum-era resorts with an inclusive public sphere that allowed all white wageworkers—regardless of class status—a place to enjoy the “fruits of their labor.” Writing for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1876, Olive Logan explained that the Jersey shore “has equal attraction for rich and poor.” There is nothing exclusive,” she proudly observed, “about any of the hotel bathing grounds.” Stephen Crane, who visited the popular summertime resort of Asbury Park in the 1880s and 1890s, agreed, remarking that it was the “greatest summer resort of America—the vacation abode of the mighty middle class.” At the same time, the promotion of the Jersey shore as a free labor utopia was dependent on . . .

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