Title: Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920
Author: Glenda Gilmore
Categories: Gender, Politics, American South, Progressivism, Race, Jim Crow, Middle-Class
Place: North Carolina
Time Period: 1896-1920
Glenda Gilmore reformulates the Progressive era by centering her book on the Upper South (North Carolina) and using the lens of gender to examine political and social struggles by the black middle-class. Gilmore begins with the assertion that in the final decades of the 19th century an ascendant black middle class faced a period of potential influence in society and politics. These "Best Men" and "Best Women" embraced many of the Victorian values of the middle-class: education, frugality, temperance, and social involvement, and expected the white middle-class to recognize this. Gilmore uses the example of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which was an arena for (quite) limited cooperation between white and black women during the 1880s and 1890s. During the early to mid-1890s black men still enjoyed political sway in North Carolina, culminating in the Populist/Republican fusion victory of 1896. Unfortunately, Gilmore notes how the visibility of the black middle-class in part backfired, instigating a counter-response among upwardly mobile white supremacist "New Southern Men." These Democrats launched a gendered campaign in 1898 to retake power, seizing on the jingoistic imperialist sentiment of the Spanish-American War and fanning the flames of racial hysteria over purported unpunished rapes of white women by black men (which Gilmore notes served to transcend class divisions in favor of racial solidarity). Gilmore argues that this white supremacist campaign was in part instigated by a growing visibility of black men and women in public life (also part of a broader milieu of urbanization and industrialization).
Once in power, these "New Southern Men" stripped black men of the right to vote in 1900 and effectively expelled them from politics - a process that Gilmore argues did far more than just reflect existing social divisions, but actively reordered and reshaped society. With black men disfranchised, Gilmore describes how black women found a new opportunity for entrance into the political realm as "diplomats" to the white community. Black middle-class women were less threatening than black men, and therefore could more easily lobby in public for two goals: a larger slice of the Progressive pie of aid and reform, and gaining the vote for black men. Gilmore illuminates some of the activities that expand a historical understanding of politics, as black women launched themselves into church groups, public school teaching, civic clubs, and especially public health campaigns. During the 1910s, Gilmore points to a hesitant growing interracial cooperation between white and black women (particularly during mobilization efforts of WWI), but notes that these operated within a framework that wanted to leave white supremacy fundamentally intact. Finally, Gilmore describes the women's suffrage movement in the Upper South, as white women tried to neutralize race as a political issue (which could otherwise point towards a slippery slope of white women voting -> black women voting -> black men voting). She also notes the backlash created by black women's suffrage, noting that white women registered to vote in droves in order to protect against any rise in black voting, and that Democrats capitalized on fears of the "black woman voter" to enact a familiar campaign of electoral chicanery at the registrars and polls.
Key Themes and Concepts
- 1890s as a period of potential for black middle-class New Men and New Women
- White supremacist campaign of late 1890s disfranchises black men, led by "New Southern Men" - upwardly mobile white supremacists
- Black women see new avenues for political participation in part because their husbands were excluded - as "diplomats to the white community"
- Race and class in realm of politics hinge on gender - use of the "black beast/rapist" imagery to transcend class divisions amongst whites
U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries
by Cameron Blevins
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