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  • Maintaining Segregation: Children and Racial Instruction in the South, 1920–1955 by LeeAnn G. Reynolds
  • Hilary Green
Maintaining Segregation: Children and Racial Instruction in the South, 1920–1955. By LeeAnn G. Reynolds. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2017. Pp. xi, 223.)

Building on the Long Civil Rights Movement scholarship, LeeAnn Reynolds offers a refreshing analysis of the educational mechanisms and safeguards necessary for upholding segregation. Reynolds explores how racial instruction received by black and white children at home, school, church, and other venues enabled the persistence of segregation. She argues that segregation "was maintained in large part … through the creation of a culture of silence" and the development of essential safeguards permitting its survival between 1920 and 1955 (3). This culture of silence and the real consequences for nonadherents conditioned southerners into accepting the system without question until the Brown v. Board of Education decision turned segregation into a national debate.

Reynolds opens with a discussion of white and black children's initial home instruction and the real pressures on white and black parents to teach their children the rules and expectations of the segregated society. By examining the autobiographies of individuals who later challenged segregation, Reynolds exploits her informants' "valuable insider's view" to show the contours of the culture of silence in which children learned through imitation and rebukes. She also reveals the pressures on white families to teach their children correctly or endure real consequences, primarily in terms of social ostracism "if their children did not learn to conform" (21). Hence, white parents collectively shared the same message about accepting segregation without debate.

Reynolds contends that African American parents attempted to raise children "as to safeguard them" from reprisals of the Jim Crow system and simultaneously "to do so without destroying their respect for themselves" (40). They developed a variety of resources and strategies for socialization, including avoidance, education, and in a few instances, rebellion. Reynolds acknowledges the compromises and consequences of each strategy but concludes that black families instilled self-worth and racial pride by delaying the difficult questions. For black children, they became, as Les Payne describes, "socialized into a state of inferiority to be made a Negro" (51). Nevertheless, all black parents developed strategies that ensured socialization and race pride in a degree of safety.

Public schools deepened and occasionally undermined home lessons. In this regard, parents lost power as a major influence in the socialization of white and black children. Reynolds shows how textbooks marginalized [End Page 125] black achievement, emphasized white postwar reconciliation, and simplified the reasons for segregation as natural and just. Even school field trips extended the racial narratives received while simultaneously discouraged children from questioning the system. Although African American schools still taught black history, they could not overcome the racial lessons learned to dismantle segregation.

Religious instruction functioned as another important avenue for maintaining segregation. The notion of a brotherhood of man, songs, rituals, and printed materials allowed white and black children to receive distinct messages. Black churches taught race pride, self-worth, and denominational pride, but also encouraged gradual improvement in race relations and education for men and women. In contrast, white churches normalized segregation as ordained by God and addressed race relations as one of "obligation and responsibility" (113). Both white and black religious instruction promoted acceptance without question.

The failure of white moderates and the need for new, innovative strategies of direct action allowed for some southerners to realize the true nature of society and propelled them into action. Reynolds explores the role of awakening in making black and white southerners to question segregation as they had not done before. White southerners often recalled a moment that allowed for deeper knowledge while African American memories tended to be attached to race and the inconsistencies of their racial instruction that facilitated action to possible alternatives to Jim Crow. Reynolds concludes that these awakened white and black southerners understood that segregation "was costing them something" (142).

Ending with an obligatory discussion of the Civil Rights Movement, Reynolds casts the movement as an educational campaign "engaged in intentional instruction of both its actors and its audience" (144). Post–Brown decision activism and white massive resistance...


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