Confronting the “Other Side”: Everyday Resistance in Lillian B. Horace’s Angie Brown
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Confronting the “Other Side” Everyday Resistance in Lillian B. Horace’s Angie Brown Bryan M. Jack In recent years, historians have become increasingly interested in expanding the understanding of the fight for civil rights in the United States. Moving beyond the familiar paradigm of the civil rights movement of the mid-­ 1950s to the mid-­ 1960s, research is extending the chronological boundaries of the movement, connecting civil rights activity from earlier generations with the later movement. An early example of such research was August Meier and Elliot Rudwick’s “The Boycott Movement against Jim Crow Streetcars in the South, 1900– 1906,” which highlighted African American protests against Jim Crow segregation in at least twenty-­ six cities in the first decade of the twentieth century. These protests occurred approximately fifty years before the Montgomery bus boycott, the oft-­ credited beginning of the civil rights movement.1 Other research has shown African Americans in St. Louis protesting horse-­ drawn streetcars as early as the second half of the nineteenth century.2 This extending of the chronological boundaries of the civil rights movement does not diminish the importance of the successes of the 1950s and 1960s. Instead, increasing our understanding of earlier civil rights activity helps to put the traditional civil rights movement within its proper historical context and deepens our knowledge of how the achievements of the 1950s and 1960s were accomplished .3 As historians are expanding the chronological boundaries of the modern civil rights movement, they are also expanding the definition of what constitutes civil rights activity. In addition to the traditional perspective that focused on marches, sit-­ ins, boycotts, court cases, and legislation, many historians are turning their eyes to seemingly smaller, more personal forms of resistance. As the definition of civil rights activity expands, so does the identification of who was involved in civil 209 Confronting the “Other Side” rights resistance. Groups and individuals who had previously not been thought part of civil rights activity because they were not part of formal civil rights organizations are now being studied because of their resistance to racial and economic oppression in both their public and private lives. A key feature of this new understanding of African American activism is the intersection of race and economic class. Historians are creating a more complete pictureof African American activism by focusing on more than just political and business leaders, middle-­ class organizations , and prominent activists. Instead, the lives, struggles, and triumphs of those who were living under a double burden of race and economic class have taken on an increased importance in scholarship concerning the African American experience. But rather than simply describing the lives of working-­ class African Americans living under Jim Crow segregation, historians are instead finding ways to uncover the agency possessed by working-­ class African Americans in American society. This trend broadens the scope of the civil rights movement, making it more grassroots-­ centered than leader-­ driven. In her writing, author and educator Lillian Horace confronts issues of gender, economic class, and race, and challenges societal stereotypes of African Americans. Focusing on Horace’s 1949 novel Angie Brown, I will discuss how through her characters Horace challenged Jim Crow segregation and its underlying assumptions of African American inferiority . Horace, who had traveled extensively and lived in many areas of the country, was especially perceptive in her understanding of American racism in both the North and the South.4 Particularly, I would like to discuss Horace’s characters’ use of everyday resistance to the challenge racism in their daily lives. In much of his work, Robin D. G. Kelley articulates the ideas of such resistance and demonstrates how it was (and is) being used. This essay will employ the paradigm provided by Kelley’s article “‘We Are Not What We Seem’: Rethinking Black Working-­ Class Opposition in the Jim Crow South” and his book Race Rebels, to better understand Horace’s challenge to segregation. Both of Kelley’s works place African American resistance to segregation and racism within a working-­ class context. Kelleyargues that “daily, unorganized, evasive, seemingly spontaneous actions form an important yet neglected part of African-­ American political history.”5 210 Bryan M. Jack In his work, Kelley found resistance to Jim Crow segregation in a variety of previously under-­ examined areas. Building on the work of Elsa Barkley Brown, Herbert Aptheker, James Scott, and others, Kelley found instances of average, everyday African Americans resisting Jim Crow segregation in their daily lives. From the floors of North Carolina tobacco...