After the Dream provides a thorough account of the movement, aspirations, and laws that embodied the American Civil Rights movement, with emphasis on the American South. The authors concentrate on the implementation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, along with other relevant policy decisions that either precipitated or impeded the movement’s objectives. Such decisions include the promotion of affirmative action policies in the 1960s to enhance racial equality in education and employment and the resulting anti-affirmative-action backlash beginning in the late 1970s that culminated in the new conservatism of President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. In addition, the authors spend much time on how forced busing was used to achieve racial integration in public schools and the resegregation it brought on due to white flight from urban centers and the establishment of private academies in rural areas and small towns. Acknowledging the political and economic gains made by African Americans in the decades succeeding this legislation, the authors assess every aspect of social, economic, and political change since 1965.
The book’s main strength lies in the large amount of detailed information provided by the authors, including the plethora of personal letters, newspaper accounts, and other correspondence from common citizens and politicians alike. The research enables the reader to come away with a sense that no one group was monolithic in its position on specific issues, although it is evident that the plurality [End Page 318] of southern whites did not agree with the civil rights agenda and fought actively to curtail it.
Several other strengths include detailed coverage of presidential legacies regarding civil rights, the role of civil rights pioneers, why white Southerners embraced change, and the New South’s attempt to correct past injustices by bringing former Klan leaders and other white supremacists to justice for racial murders and other actions for which they were never held accountable.
The authors are not remiss in pointing out that, in spite of all of the progress that has been made, high levels of racial tension and social segregation still exist throughout the South. They point to the national attention on a Jena, Louisiana, high school in 2007, after a white student was attacked by a black student for a racial slur after three nooses had been hung from a tree to deter black students from sitting under it. The tree, located on school grounds, was traditionally used only by white students, but a black student had sat under it the previous day. The white students who hung the noose were suspended for several days after the school board concluded that it was just a “youthful prank.” The black student, however, was charged with attempted murder (later scaled back to aggravated battery) and sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Although the white student went to the hospital, he “recovered sufficiently to attend a party where his friends described him as ‘his usual smiling self’” (283). As a result of the national spotlight on the small town, the black student was eventually given probation after pleading guilty to one count of second degree battery (286). The authors use this example, along with several others, to show “how little the South has changed since the 1960s” (283).
One weakness of the book is that the authors fail to clarify that certain events they classify as southern are indeed national in scope. Examples are the conservative backlash to affirmative action and white flight in response to the court-ordered integration of public schools. On the other hand, the authors are correct in their assessment that the most successful changes in the South since 1965 include African Americans’ access to public accommodations and the ballot box. Although significant gains have been made, blacks [End Page 319] still lag behind whites in levels of education, income (employment), and home ownership.
The book would be more readable if the authors...