Race in the American South: From Slavery to Civil Rights

By David Brown; Clive Webb | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

'THE WHITE SUPREME':
RACE RELATIONS IN THE JIM CROW SOUTH

For Anne Moody, as for so many African Americans, it was as a child that she experienced her first awakening of racial consciousness. From that moment, her world was changed for ever. The young Moody had come face-to-face with what it meant to be black in the southern states, and that sudden insight had left her frightened and bewildered. It occurred one Saturday in the 1940s, when Moody went to the local movie theatre in Centreville, Mississippi. When she saw some white children who lived on the same street, she ran into the theatre lobby to greet them. Suddenly, her mother was screaming and forcibly escorting her outside. Anne could not understand what was happening and started to cry. On the way home, her mother explained that African Americans were not allowed into the lobby, but had to use a side entrance that led them to the racially separated seats in the balcony. Eventually, Anne saw the white children again and they started playing as before. 'But things were not the same. I had never really thought of them as white before. Now all of a sudden they were white, and their whiteness made them better than me. I now realized that not only were they better than me because they were white, but everything they owned and everything connected with them was better than what was available to me.'1

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed the brutal imposition of a new system of white supremacist control in the southern states. Taking its name from a black-face minstrel character, Jim Crow represented, in the famous words of historian Rayford Logan, 'the nadir' of American race relations.2 This chapter focuses on the origins and impact of Jim Crow. Southern whites instituted the system not only through their exploitation of the apparatus of state power, but also through unrelenting acts of violent lawlessness. Although southern ideologues represented it as the natural order of social relations between the races, Jim Crow was a politically strategic construction that reinforced the power of white patriarchy. It united white males otherwise divided by class by emphasising their shared

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