- Raising Racists: The Socialization of White Children in the Jim Crow South by Kristina DuRocher
Scholars studying the Jim Crow era practice of spectacle lynching have no shortage of horrors to confront. A particularly disturbing detail, however, was the frequent presence of children at these ritual murders—a fact that has received little attention from historians. With Raising Racists, Kristina DuRocher not only demonstrates the centrality of children to the maintenance of white supremacy, but reveals how adults groomed them for the practice of racial violence. The result is a well-crafted contribution to the historiography of Jim Crow.
DuRocher argues that the years 1890–1939 were a unique period in the socialization of white southern children. From Reconstruction until the 1890s, children did not figure significantly in southern efforts to maintain the racial status quo. After World War II, white southerners resisted the Civil Rights movement by sheltering children from issues of race to minimize their exposure to African Americans. During the height of Jim Crow, however, whites actively involved their children in the maintenance of segregation—even encouraging participation in lynching—to instill white supremacy in younger generations who never experienced the racial order of slavery. With horrifying irony, this [End Page 230] practice resulted from the development of a cultural emphasis on a sheltered childhood; yet among southern whites, DuRocher explains, parents attempted to shelter children “not from violence or terror, but from a racial breakdown” (7).
DuRocher organizes her chapters to reflect the course of white children’s socialization. Instruction by parents, reinforcement of those lessons in school, and communication of similar messages via consumer culture and youth organizations (such as the Children of the Confederacy and the Ku Klux Klan’s Tri-K-Klub) all receive thorough attention as DuRocher traces the process that molded children into adults committed to white supremacy. DuRocher utilizes a wide variety of primary sources, including southern parenting guidebooks, autobiographies in which white southerners recall their childhoods, school textbooks, toys, and advertisements. As she demonstrates, white southerners not only instilled a belief in the racial status quo at home, but carried their efforts into the public sphere as they sought to ensure that schools taught the southern version of history with respect to slavery, the Civil War, and race. Indeed, DuRocher notes that both parents and southern historians “applauded efforts to remove every northern book from southern schools” (37). Similarly, advertisements depicted African Americans as subservient—even to white children—and toys marketed to white southerners encouraged racial violence by, for example, having children throw beanbags at cartoonish black caricatures. According to DuRocher, these ads and toys operated as symbolic ways to continue displaying and purchasing black bodies long after emancipation. Such lessons in racial identity did more than develop children into committed advocates of racial segregation; they also produced individuals prepared to punish violations of southern racial dictates with the application of deadly force.
In the second half of Raising Racists, DuRocher details children’s involvement in racial violence. “Countless children attended lynchings,” she explains, and their presence at these gruesome events “was neither accidental nor rare” (99, 105). Rather than shielding children from viewing lynchings, white southerners encouraged it as a means to educate them on the proper enforcement of southern hierarchies—not only of race, but of gender. DuRocher argues that lynchings not only subsumed class divisions, unifying whites on racial grounds, but also functioned as pageants through which to perform and reinforce gender roles. By watching white men demonstrate their masculinity at the expense of black victims, white women and children received reminders of their own places in society. White boys discovered themselves as aggressive protectors of white womanhood against black sexuality and white girls learned their roles as vessels for the future of the white race. According to DuRocher, however, white girls often used rape accusations to subvert the very standards that southern society charged them with upholding; by offering black victims to the mob, white girls concealed their own sexual dalliances, suffering...