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Brown Decision, Jim Crow, and Southern Identity

James C. Cobb

Publication Year: 2005

The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling was a watershed event in the fight against racial segregation in the United States. The recent fiftieth anniversary of Brown prompted a surge of tributes: books, television and radio specials, conferences, and speeches. At the same time, says James C. Cobb, it revealed a growing trend of dismissiveness and negativity toward Brown and other accomplishments of the civil rights movement. Writing as both a lauded historian and a white southerner from the last generation to grow up under southern apartheid, Cobb responds to what he sees as distortions of Brown’s legacy and their implied disservice to those whom it inspired and empowered.

Cobb begins by looking at how our historical understanding of segregation has evolved since the Brown decision. In particular, he targets the tenacious misconception that racial discrimination was at odds with economic modernization--and so would have faded out, on its own, under market pressures. He then looks at the argument that Brown energized white resistance more than it fomented civil rights progress. This position overstates the pace and extent of racial change in the South prior to Brown, Cobb says, while it understates Brown’s role in catalyzing and legitimizing subsequent black protest.

Finally, Cobb suggests that the Brown decree and the civil rights movement accomplished not only more than certain critics have acknowledged but also more than the hard statistics of black progress can reveal. The destruction of Jim Crow, with its “denial of belonging,” allowed African Americans to embrace their identity as southerners in ways that freed them to explore links between their southernness and their blackness. This is an important and timely reminder of “what the Brown court and the activists who took the spirit of its ruling into the streets were up against, both historically and contemporaneously.”

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

When I informed Michael Cass that the combination of my duties as chair of the History Department at the University of Georgia and my responsibilities as president of the Southern Historical Association required me to withdraw from the special millennium session of the Dolly Blount Lamar Lectures in October...

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pp. 1-6

When I learned that I would be delivering the Lamar Lectures in 2004, I thought immediately of the fiftieth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Shortly after that, of course, it occurred to me that I was probably not the only historian who had made this connection and that doubtless a slew of books...

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1. Stranger Than We Thought: Shifting Perspectives on Jim Crow's Career

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pp. 7-30

Writing in 1958, with the outcome of the Little Rock school integration crisis still hanging in the balance and the reenergized post-World War II crusade to recruit new industry to the South going great guns, Oberlin College sociologists George E. Simpson...

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2. Down on Brown: Revisionist Critics and the History That Might Have Been

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pp. 31-55

As I surveyed the predictable flood of media assessments of the fifty-year legacy of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, I was struck by what seemed to be the overwhelmingly negative tone of these appraisals. In this case, as in so many others, historical and...

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3. Brown and Belonging: African Americans and the Recovery of Southern Black Identity

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pp. 56-75

A decade before the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision invalidated racial segregation in the public schools, writer Sterling Brown began his contribution to the controversial volume What the Negro Wants by citing a recently published history of Georgia whose white author took great comfort in the fact that the...


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pp. 77-87


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pp. 89-93

E-ISBN-13: 9780820342924
E-ISBN-10: 0820342920
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820324982
Print-ISBN-10: 0820324981

Page Count: 102
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures
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OCLC Number: 759160184
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Brown Decision, Jim Crow, and Southern Identity

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Southern States -- Race relations.
  • African Americans -- Race identity.
  • African Americans -- Race identity.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- Southern States -- History -- 20th century.
  • African Americans -- Segregation -- Southern States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Race discrimination -- Law and legislation -- United States.
  • Segregation in education -- Law and legislation -- United States.
  • Topeka (Kan.). Board of Education -- Trials, litigation, etc.
  • Brown, Oliver, -- 1918-1961 -- Trials, litigation, etc.
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