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Neo-Segregation Narratives

Jim Crow in Post-Civil Rights American Literature

Brian Norman

Publication Year: 2010

This study of what Brian Norman terms a neo–segregation narrative tradition examines literary depictions of life under Jim Crow that were written well after the civil rights movement.

From Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, to bestselling black fiction of the 1980s to a string of recent work by black and nonblack authors and artists, Jim Crow haunts the post–civil rights imagination. Norman traces a neo–segregation narrative tradition—one that developed in tandem with neo–slave narratives—by which writers return to a moment of stark de jure segregation to address contemporary concerns about national identity and the persistence of racial divides. These writers upset dominant national narratives of achieved equality, portraying what are often more elusive racial divisions in what some would call a postracial present.

Norman examines works by black writers such as Lorraine Hansberry, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, David Bradley, Wesley Brown, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Colson Whitehead, films by Spike Lee, and other cultural works that engage in debates about gender, Black Power, blackface minstrelsy, literary history, and whiteness and ethnicity. Norman also shows that multiethnic writers such as Sherman Alexie and Tom Spanbauer use Jim Crow as a reference point, extending the tradition of William Faulkner’s representations of the segregated South and John Howard Griffin’s notorious account of crossing the color line from white to black in his 1961 work Black Like Me.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Front Matter

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List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-

Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-

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INTRODUCTION: Jim Crow Then: The Emergence of Neo–Segregation Narratives

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pp. 1-20

Contemporary America is drawn to segregation’s artifacts: “Whites Only” signs, mammy cookie jars, blackface performances, lynching photographs, civil rights placards — that is, when they are encased in plexiglass, displayed as collectibles,...

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CHAPTER 1. Jim Crow Jr.: Lorraine Hansberry’s Late Segregation Revisions and Toni Morrison’s Early Post–Civil Rights Ambivalence

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pp. 21-51

By the mid-twentieth century, Jim Crow codes, practices, locations, and ideologies were widespread and varied, which meant segregation narratives had to adapt and diversify. Richard Wright tracked Jim Crow’s path not only into the urban north but also across the globe, while Ann Petry, Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin, and Frank London Brown chronicled the communities that...

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CHAPTER 2. Jim Crow Returns, Jim Crow Remains: Gender and Segregation in David Bradley’s The Chaneysville Incident and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple

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pp. 52-81

Lorraine Hansberry’s late segregation narrative and Toni Morrison’s early neo – segregation narrative concentrate on what happens when people cross the color line, whether physically or psychologically. The stark racial lines of Jim Crow can serve other purposes too. Many neo – segregation narratives do not primarily...

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CHAPTER 3. Jim Too: Black Blackface Minstrelsy in Wesley Brown’s Darktown Strutters and Spike Lee’s Bamboozled

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pp. 81-107

Alice Walker and David Bradley set up camp far from the color line to explore the limits and merits of segregated communities, both self-driven and externally imposed. Other neo – segregation narratives seek out the most...

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CHAPTER 4. Jim Crow in Idaho: Clarifying Blackness in Multiethnic Fiction

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pp. 108-132

So far I have concentrated on neo – segregation narratives by African American writers. But what about white or ethnic minority writers who turn to Jim Crow and his black subjects? And in the process, what happens when we find Jim Crow’s citizens far from their expected location in the segregated South?...

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CHAPTER 5. Jim Crow Faulkner: Suzan-Lori Parks Digs Up the Past, Again

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pp. 133-154

So far I have concentrated on how literary writers return to the Jim Crow South to track what remains of him in the contemporary moment, in other locations, and in post – civil rights political and philosophical debates. What about interventions into literary history itself? The neo – slave narrative is a...

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EPILOGUE: Jim Crow Today: When Jim Crow Is but Should Not Be

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pp. 155-172

As racial dynamics have shifted over the course of the post – civil rights era, so too does the work of the neo – segregation narrative. Today, pronouncements of a postrace era are increasingly entering mainstream acceptance, especially following the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first (biracial) black president....

Notes

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pp. 173-186

Bibliography

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pp. 187-205

Index

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pp. 207-214


E-ISBN-13: 9780820337357
E-ISBN-10: 0820337358
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820335964
Print-ISBN-10: 0820335967

Page Count: 228
Illustrations: 4 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism
  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • African Americans in literature.
  • Segregation in literature.
  • Race discrimination in literature.
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