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Representing Segregation

Toward an Aesthetics of Living Jim Crow, and Other Forms of Racial Division

Brian Norman, Piper Kendrix Williams

Publication Year: 2010

Examines racial segregation in literature and the cultural legacy of the Jim Crow era. As a touchstone issue in American history, segregation has had an immeasurable impact on the lives of most ethnic groups in the United States. Primarily associated with the Jim Crow South and the court cases Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Brown v. Board of Education (1954), segregation comprises a diverse set of cultural practices, ethnic experiences, historical conditions, political ideologies, municipal planning schemes, and de facto social systems. Representing Segregation traces the effects of these practices on the literary imagination and proposes a distinct literary tradition of representing segregation. Contributors engage a cross section of writers, literary movements, segregation practices, and related experiences of racial division in order to demonstrate the richness and scope of responses to segregation in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By taking up the cultural expression of the Jim Crow period and its legacies, this collection reorients literary analysis of an important body of African American literature in productive new directions.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Segregation usually connotes racialized discrimination in the twentieth-century public sphere—on public conveyances, in public venues ranging from churches to hospitals, even to graveyards. Utter the word segregation, and one might envision Rosa Parks as a young woman, perhaps recall Parks’s coy smile in her now...

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pp. xiii

We are grateful to the contributors who made this collection possible, and who are helping to stake out new terrain in studies of representations of segregation. We are grateful in particular to Joycelyn Moody, who provided steadfast support of this project in its earliest stages when she was editor of African American ...

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Introduction To Lie, Steal, and Dissemble The Cultural Work of the Literature of Segregation

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pp. 1-10

Segregation is a touchstone issue in African American history, and it profoundly shapes how we think about group identity and belonging in the United States. How have writers represented experiences of racial segregation in literary venues? Segregation comprises a diverse set of cultural practices, ethnic experiences,...

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In the Crowd Artist’s Statement

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pp. 11-12

In the last decades of the nineteenth century and the fi rst decades of the twen-tieth, thousands of men and women were murdered by mobs in the United States. The victims of lynching included people of all races and ethnicities, but the majority of them were African American men who died at the hands of white men, women, and children. The perpetrators of lynching were rarely ...

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Section I The Aesthetic Challenges of Jim Crow Politics

Elizabeth Abel’s piece appears at the beginning of this collection because it illustrates the kinds of theoretical approaches that allow us to think about an aesthetics of segregation across periods and historical or political contexts. She focuses on the persistent and curious ways that Jim Crow signs and related memorabilia and images pop up in contemporary U.S. culture, from antique ...

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American Graffiti

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pp. 15-36

A streetcar conductor in a 1945 cartoon in the Chicago Defender points to a sign declaring “FROM HERE BACK FOR nEGROES.” Beneath the sign, a Caucasian-featured woman protests: “. . . But I’m not! I got this tan out at the beach” (Figure 1). Playing with case...

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Smacked Upside the Head—Again

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pp. 37-39

I recently viewed July ’64 (2006), a documentary by Carvin Eison about racial violence in Rochester, New York on July 24 and 25, 1964. It was the first time in history that the U.S. National Guard had to be called out for racial disturbances in a Northern city in the United States...

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Section II Imagining and Subverting Jim Crowin Charles Chesnutt’s Segregation Fiction

Charles Chesnutt, whose career spans the promises of Reconstruction to de jure segregation, stands as a key stem in a literary tradition associated with U.S. practices of segregation as he grapples with how to represent the arbitrary and newly bright line of Jim Crow segregation. To that end, this section offers an...

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Wedded to the Color Line

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pp. 43-56

Uncle Wellington, the title character of Charles Chesnutt’s 1899 short story, “Uncle Wellington’s Wives,” must grapple with an unusual marital problem. It is a problem that is absent from most nineteenth-century fictions about marriage; and yet it was one that thousands belonging to, what Chesnutt calls, “the...

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Charles Chesnutt’s “The Dumb Witness” and the Culture of Segregation

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pp. 57-72

In 1897, when Charles Chesnutt composed “The Dumb Witness,” he was returning to the literary form—his “conjure tales”—that had won him his earliest successes. That literary return was likely bittersweet for Chesnutt, because although it led directly to the publication of his first book—The Conjure...

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“Those that do violence must expect to suffer”

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pp. 73-90

Despite Charles W. Chesnutt’s often noted internalized racism, a passionate rebuke of racial logic and narratives energizes his work.1 In his short stories and novels, Chesnutt challenges the logic of segregation and racial terrorism that organized U.S. society at the close of the nineteenth century. The often veiled and coded nature of Chesnutt’s critique reflects the violence that circumscribed ...

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Section III Inside Jim Crow and His Doubles

Because the last section posed Chesnutt and the post-Reconstruction movement as formative to a literary tradition associated with segregation, the essays in this section work outward, geographically and chronologically, to see how later writers addressed Jim Crow segregation and its doubles, such as ...

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White Islands of Safety and Engulfing Blackness

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pp. 93-112

Jim Crow apartheid and Northern segregation alike operated through the racialization of space, in which geography and the built environment produced and expressed “the inequitable power relations between races” (Mohanram 3). Memory turns space into place, and a sense of place is “central to the formation ...

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“Somewhat Like War”

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pp. 113-130

In early summer 1937, a mob arrived at 6140 Rhodes Avenue to convince the Hansberrys of Chicago to abandon their new home. Instead, the Hansberrys convinced their new white neighbors to disperse, with a shotgun. As expected, the neighborhood “improvement association” sought an injunction against the...

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Housing the Black Body

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pp. 131-148

“Iron Ring in Housing,” a 1940 article from The Crisis on the signifi cance of the Supreme Court case Hansberry v. Lee, begins by insisting: “There is no right more elemental nor any liberty more fundamental in a democracy than freedom to move where and when you please” (205). Linking together...

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Diseased Properties and Broken Homes in Ann Petry’s The Street

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pp. 149-164

From the “big house” of the plantation to the “big house” of the prison, African Americans have colloquially associated the domestic architecture of the United States with oppression and abjection. Ann Petry’s 1946 novel The Street brings to life for its audience the deceptive, malignant structures in which Jim ...

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Section IV Exporting Jim Crow

This section moves deliberately outside the familiar contexts of the Jim Crow South and the de facto segregation of the urban North. With transnational, Pan-African, and cross-ethnic approaches, the studies in this section help us to understand what happens when something like Jim Crow pops up in other ...

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Embodying Segregation

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pp. 167-184

Writing about the return voyage from her fi rst trip to the United Kingdom in 1893, Ida Wells notes two “delightful” circumstances of the journey: “[f ]irst, there were few if any white Americans on board. Second, there were fifteen young Englishmen in one party. . . . [who] were as courteous and attentive to ...

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Black Is a Region

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pp. 185-200

“I am a rootless man,” Richard Wright declares very early in White Man, Listen! (1957). The simple utterance captures the tie between his statelessness and his humanity: “I declare unabashedly that I like and even cherish the state of abandonment, of aloneness; it does not bother me; indeed, to me it seems the...

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“¿Qué Dice?”

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pp. 201-220

Transnational connections—whether real or fantastical—were a matter of psychological and emotional survival for African Americans who endured Jim Crow laws and segregation. Connections to the Latin Americas, specifically, helped debunk the insidious logic of race and racism in the United States...

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Section V Jim Crow’s Legacy

This final section explores “Jim Crow’s legacy” in order to attend to the way segregation may not fit into the discrete historical era of Jim Crow segregation. This heeds Moody’s crucial reminder that race segregation precedes the Jim Crow era and Harris’s ominous contention in Section I that segregation persists ...

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In Possession of Space

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pp. 223-244

In 1966, after more than a decade of demonstrations that retook the streets of Montgomery, Birmingham, Albany, and Selma, Langston Hughes celebrated Frederick Douglass’s ability to “capture every street/ On which he set his feet.” Affirming Douglass’s ongoing participation in the civil rights movement, Hughes...

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Into a Burning House

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pp. 245-264

As long as the promises of integration remain unfulfilled, it is premature to inquire after segregation as if it were over. If anything, it’s the former whose time may have passed, for these promises, in all their deliberate speed, are rarely encountered these days outside the refuge of a museum. Perhaps it would be...

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pp. 265-268

As I read the richly varied articles collected in Representing Segregation, the case of the Jena Six made headlines. Its images of the lynching tree, the manacled black male body, and the self-righteous agent of an unjust justice system resonated with my memories of the Jim Crow era. I was not alone. The images...


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pp. 269-272


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pp. 273-280

E-ISBN-13: 9781438430348
E-ISBN-10: 1438430345
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438430331
Print-ISBN-10: 1438430337

Page Count: 294
Illustrations: 23 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

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