In A Long Dark Night: Race in America from Jim Crow to World War II,J. Michael Martinez attempts to provide a compelling synthesis of social, economic, and political actors and events that dominated American history from the end of the Civil War through World War II. Focusing on the southern region of the nation, Martinez shows how white politicians at the state and federal levels perpetuated and expanded racist discrimination and oppression. On some topics he succeeds in relaying important information to his intended audience (undergraduate and graduate students), but generally, Martinez's narrative style and focus prevent him from achieving his goal.
Much of this book concerns racial segregation, but Martinez fails to show the vast array of legal (de jure) and customary (de facto) details of Jim Crow. Few students today know just how oppressive this apartheid system was—from the cradle to the grave—so Martinez misses an opportunity to show the absurdity of white supremacist ideology. Incidentally, his consistent use of the term white supremacy should be commended. Most authors shy away from using this accurate term and opt instead to use less precise ones such as discrimination, prejudice, and racism.
At the same time, Martinez could be more precise in his use of language. When discussing black people, he should use the terms black people ox African Americans instead of using the archaic terms Negro and colored. Other examples of Martinez's curious word choice are found throughout his work. For example, he labels the abolitionist newspaper the Liberator a "rag," he describes one politician as an "angry rube," and in one instance he calls white men's sexual exploitation and assaults of black women as "trysts" (pp. 25, 138, 180). There are more than a few places where it is unclear whether Martinez is conveying the attitudes and beliefs of people he is writing about or whether he is assessing and critiquing them. This lack of clarity undermines his work.
One particular strength of the book (likely a result of Martinez's career as an attorney) is its history of Supreme Court decisions, especially those pertaining to the Fourteenth Amendment. Rarely has an author detailed and described these cases so clearly. Other strengths include chapters 7 ("The Great Migration") and 9 ("The Rise of a New Black Culture"), which cover black people's agency to create positive changes in their lives.
Apart from those chapters, however, Martinez's book is primarily a story of prominent and/or consequential white men who made black people's lives so hard. He makes only a few references to black men's agency. Left out is any comprehensive discussion of the vast array of African American fraternal organizations, as well as the mutual aid and self-help organizations, that black men established in partnership with black women. [End Page 463]
Martinez reinforces this gendered history by using masculine pronouns to generalize about white and black people, and by his decision not to include any substantive information on women—black or white. When Martinez does mention women, he generally shows them only as victims of white men who wanted to control women at all costs. There is no mention of the National Association of Colored Women and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, both of which organized extensively around social issues and had strong influences on American society and politics. Martinez's omission of Ida B. Wells-Barnett's research on lynching is especially glaring. Her work The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States (1895) proved that white people used that terrorist tactic mainly to punish black men and women who had allegedly committed "offenses" against white individuals, such as fighting, arguing, and being "disrespectful," and to a lesser extent to protect white womanhood from "black brutes." On a related note, A Long Dark Night lacks a gender analysis of the white southern patriarchal culture that underpinned white...