To Render Invisible: Jim Crow and Public Space in New South Jacksonville

By Taylor, Robert A. | The Historian, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

To Render Invisible: Jim Crow and Public Space in New South Jacksonville


Taylor, Robert A., The Historian


To Render Invisible: Jim Crow and Public Space in New South Jacksonville. By Robert Cassanello. (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2013. Pp. xv, 188. $74.95.)

In his 1933 autobiography, James Weldon Johnson wrote at length about his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, during the late nineteenth century. He noted that port city's reputation as a good place for African Americans to live and work. Blacks served in the police and fire departments and as municipal judges, as well as owning businesses. But he commented sadly that, by the dawn of the twentieth century, the situation had radically changed and Jim Crow ruled there with a vengeance. How this came to be is examined in this study. Robert Cassanello interestingly applies theories of urban public space from scholars like Jurgen Habermas to Jacksonville and offers a new interpretation of its New South racial experience.

Post-1865 Jacksonville saw a fairly quick economic revival that resulted in a growing freedmen population. During Reconstruction, units of the United States Colored Troops maintained order in the city and provided a powerful example of the changes brought by the collapse of slavery. What the author terms "democratized spaces" existed in schools, churches, and on the streets of the town. By 1869, African Americans were clearly participants in civic and economic life. Unfortunately, this biracial public sphere was destined not to endure as Reconstruction faded away over time.

The 1870s, the forces of white reaction to these new racial norms grew and began an effort to push back Jacksonville blacks from full engagement. Soon black political influence came under assault and found itself marginalized in "fusion" efforts. …

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