- Representing Segregation: Toward an Aesthetics of Living Jim Crow, and Other Forms of Racial Division, and: Neo-Segregation Narratives: Jim Crow in Post-Civil Rights American Literature
While many readers view literature, and especially literary criticism, as peripheral to the study of America's Civil Rights Movement, many writers responsible for that literature would disagree. Authors such as Charles Chesnutt, Richard Wright, Lorraine Hansberry, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison describe creative writing, critical writing, and political action in similar, if not interchangeable, terms. Those of us who write about this literature, like the historians who supposedly occupy the center of civil rights studies, want to facilitate dialogue about compelling material of the American experience. The first step toward claiming a more central space for literary texts and criticism in this realm is to clearly articulate our contributions. Two new books map the parameters of a literary tradition that extends from the post-Reconstruction era into the present day: Brian Norman's Neo-Segregation Narratives: Jim Crow in Post-Civil Rights American Literature and his coedited collection (with Piper Kendrix Williams), Representing Segregation: Toward an Aesthetics of Living Jim Crow, and Other Forms of Racial Division. By defining key figures, practices, and comparative approaches, these two volumes clarify and validate the work of scholarship on the literature of the Civil Rights Movement. [End Page 212]
Representing Segregation builds on a Spring 2008 special issue of African American Review, adding four new essays and substantially changing the structure. The new structure takes a partly chronological, partly thematic approach. The first section, "The Aesthetic Challenges of Jim Crow Politics," establishes the complexities of Representing Segregation's subject matter. An essay by Elizabeth Abel demonstrates how segregation signs have reemerged to both undermine and reinscribe racist discourse. Trudier Harris's cutting essay, "Smacked Upside the Head—Again," examines the downward slide from "attempted desegregation" (37) ("attempted" because integration, she explains, will never exist) to resegregation. Like Shawn Michelle Smith's silhouettes of lynching spectators that recur throughout the book, these essays remind us that Jim Crow is not dead but still an active presence—sometimes ghostly, sometimes quite tangible.
If this book reminds us that "Jim Crow's Legacy" (the final section's title) endures, then it also emphasizes segregation as more than a post-Reconstruction, regional aberration. Joycelyn Moody opens the book with a foreword in which she traces segregation's roots to slavery. Zoe Trodd contributes to the final section with a highly original juxtaposition of Charles Moore's Civil Rights photography with images used in the abolitionist movement. Her essay is followed by Vince Schleitwiler's poignant "Into a Burning House," which looks at violence in Los Angeles from a cross-racial, cross-generational perspective. Most of Representing Segregation's essays, in fact, consider writing from outside the traditional Jim Crow centers. One exception is Anne P. Rice's "White Islands of Safety and Engulfing Blackness," in which she discusses Angelina Weld Grimké's response to the 1918 lynching of Mary Turner near Valdosta, Georgia. In Section Three, other essays—Michelle Y. Gordon on Lorraine Hansberry, GerShun Avilez on Gwendolyn Brooks, and Elizabeth Boyle Machlan on Anne Petry—consider de facto segregation in the urban North as a form of Jim Crow's "Doubles." Section Four, "Exporting Jim Crow," pans further outward to examine segregation from a global context. Gary Totten describes Ida B. Wells's "embodied" social protest in her overseas anti-lynching travels, Eve Dunbar examines Richard Wright's rhetorical strategies from a Pan-African perspective, and Ruth Blandón frames James Weldon Johnson within his Latin American travels. Here, the addition of essays such as Blandón's makes the book a richer product; writings about civil rights too often forget the larger international stage.