AMERICAN NIGHTMARE by Jerrold M. Packard


The History of Jim Crow
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From popular historian Packard (Victoria’s Daughters, 1998, etc.), a chronicle of the growth and decline of America’s infamous Jim Crow laws, which enforced racial segregation.

Confronting the ugliness of Jim Crow, the author suggests, is an important first step toward understanding how entrenched racial attitudes function in America today. Packard attacks the foundation of these attitudes by reconstructing 19th-century biblical justifications for racially based slavery, then exposing the fallacies inherent in those arguments. Combined with a southern economic dependence on agriculture, Packard asserts, such shaky arguments were good enough to prompt uneasy acknowledgment of the “peculiar institution” in the North and enthusiastic acceptance in the South. He demonstrates how the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision in 1857 inflamed racial hatreds that exploded after Reconstruction into the bitter oppression of American blacks. In his exploration of this era, Packard details some of the most wicked laws ever enacted in the US, as well as the appalling fact that the federal government practically sanctioned them following the Supreme Court’s 1896 pronouncement in Plessy v. Ferguson of “separate but equal.” Only after African-Americans performed admirably through two world wars, the author states, did the hypocrisy of Jim Crow racism become visible to America’s white majority. This newfound visibility, according to Packard, made possible the reversal of Jim Crow laws launched by the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. White moderates’ rejection of Jim Crow also assisted the modern civil-rights movement in its effort to desegregate schools in the face of southern white hostility. The author concludes this powerful volume by describing the dramatic death knell of legalized Jim Crow, rung by the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Credible and poignant history limning the dark side of America’s racial past.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-312-26122-5
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2001


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