Reforming Jim Crow: Southern Politics and State in the Age before Brown

By Kimberley Johnson | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
The End of Jim Crow Reform

There is no power in the world—not even all the mechanized armies of the earth, Allied and Axis—which could now force the Southern white people to the abandonment of the principle of social segregation.

Mark Ethridge, quoted in Sosna, In Search of the Silent South

Mark Ethridge, a white journalist and longtime white member of the Jim Crow reform movement, was flustered and angered by what he saw as a sudden assertiveness of blacks during World War II.1 The boundaries of the Jim Crow order that had been carefully and painstakingly drawn by Ethridge and his colleagues were now being challenged. This challenge was not met with reason and cool-headed pragmatism, but with a hot flash of anger: no armies in the world could violate social segregation.

The response of Ethridge was not unusual among white Jim Crow reformers. Jim Crow reform first flourished and then died in the shadow of war. Like World War I, World War II created massive waves of change. In both instances, the mobilization of society and state called for in total war challenged existing social, economic, and political boundaries. In both eras millions of whites and blacks migrated in search of the new economic and social opportunities provided by wartime spending. Military service, especially for blacks, subverted and challenged the beliefs of many whites about the status of African American citizenship. At the end of the first war Jim

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