From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this stunning examination of African-American life after slavery. Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Litwack recounts the physical brutality and crushing legal oppression of Jim Crow America. Drawing on African-American literature, poetry and blues music, as well as traditional archival and media records, the author details lynchings, segregation, denial of education and housing—and the dedication among African-Americans determined not to be treated as second-class citizens. The book pays special attention to the participation of black soldiers in America's wars and concludes with a look at race relations at the dawn of the new century: the legacy of the civil rights movement largely dismantled, the segregation formerly mandated by law replaced by a segregation just as deep driven by economics and tradition, and the voice of black dissent expressed through rap instead of blues. In the early twenty-first century, the author writes, it is a different America, and it is a familiar America; Jim Crow is long gone from our law books, but the struggle for equality continues. (Feb.)
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Litwack, a history professor, explores the journey of black Americans from slavery to equality, which is not yet completed and often plagued with recurring obstacles rooted in the past. He examines the complex period following Reconstruction and the rigidity of Jim Crow with separate but hardly equal accommodations. Successful blacks, presumed to have succeeded on their personal initiative, were often treated more harshly by whites than poor blacks. Litwack surmises that race discrimination without regard to class helped to form a parallel black society, from which sprang supportive institutions, including the NAACP. Litwack argues that the experience of blacks fighting wars of freedom formed the foundation of the modern civil rights movement. Yet, despite the success of this movement, the rigidity of the current resegregation along race and class lines, now justified by tradition, argues that blacks collectively have a long way to go. An interesting analysis of the dynamics of race and class and how they continue to affect progress. --Vernon Ford