In After the Dream: Black and White Southerners since 1965, authors Timothy J. Minchin and John A. Salmond survey the impact of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 on the southern United States. They argue that Martin Luther King Jr.'s celebrated speech following the Selma-to-Montgomery march marked the beginning of a new phase of civil rights struggle. In the post-1965 era, as tangible segregation signs were removed from public facilities, a continuing battle was waged to push for enforcement of the new federal legislation. Thus, Minchin and Salmond [End Page 504] set out as their central task the examination of how these two laws were implemented in the South from 1965 to 2007. Tracing the strategies of eight presidential administrations sheds light on the progress as well as regression in civil rights law interpretation in the last forty years. Salmond and Minchin's study is situated well within the framework of a "long civil rights movement" that has received recent attention from scholars. While this discourse has located the origins of civil rights struggle in the early decades of the twentieth century, After the Dream effectively goes where few previous analyses have gone by extending the discussion from the 1960s into the twenty-first century.
The authors narrow their examination to four major areas addressed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965: public accommodations, employment, education, and voting. While the narrative on these topics is cogent and well documented through policies and court cases, more discussion of housing would have been welcome since it intersects in important ways with several of the factors under discussion and helps explain current urban demographics. A chief goal of the book is to probe how black and white Southerners reacted to "new forms of interaction" instigated by these laws (p. 7). The authors accomplished this successfully by employing not only newly released archival material but a broad range of newspaper coverage and oral histories that give voice to ordinary citizens. Chapter twelve, "The Aftermath: From History to Memory," is a particularly creative reflection on how civil rights has evolved in the public consciousness over time. This chapter could be especially applicable to classroom discussion since some current undergraduates seem to consider civil rights to be ancient history. Chapter thirteen might also work particularly well with students. This chapter brings the discussion up to 2007 and addresses events like Hurricane Katrina and the Jena Six case which students might well remember.
Overall, After the Dream represents an important step in chronicling civil rights legislation and the fight to implement those laws during a time period that has not yet received much attention from [End Page 505] historians. The book could be functional in upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses on recent U.S. history, southern studies, and the civil rights movement. It could also serve as a valuable desk reference for civil rights scholars. One minor suggestion: the authors might want to consider making the index more comprehensive and user-friendly for subsequent editions. Hopefully, Minchin and Salmond's work will inspire new scholarship on this time period that assesses other regions and the nation as a whole. Most importantly, the evidence in this study challenges the ahistorical notion that the U.S. has entered into a postracial epoch. Though the authors close on a hopeful note for the future, the image of the oak tree being cut down in Jena, Louisiana, is indelible. The tree may be gone, like the most visible trappings of institutional racism, but the roots are still firmly entrenched.
Lindsey R. Swindall is visiting assistant professor in the history department at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, and the author of The Politics of Paul Robeson's Othello (2011). She is currently working on a book for the University Press of Florida titled Southern Roots of Radicalism: African American Activism from the Depression to...