TROUBLE IN MIND by Leon F. Litwack


Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow
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The expansive sequel to Litwack’s Pulitzer-winning Been in the Storm So Long (1979) touches all the bases of southern African-American life during the period he calls —the nadir of black life.— Any recounting of the years between the dismantling of Reconstruction’s reforms in the 1870s and the migration to northern cities that commenced with WW I—is necessarily preoccupied with white power. That’s because southern whites, through Jim Crow laws and violence, controlled every aspect of black life. Just how extensive, demeaning, and abhorrent was white repression is made painfully, abundantly clear by the testimony of the “common” blacks Litwack quotes. Their testimony details white resistance to black progress in every conceivable endeavor, from social interaction to education, work, justice, even which games of chance blacks could play (craps was OK; poker—“a white man’s game”—was not). Jim Crow’s more absurd contortions (the existence of separate courtroom Bibles for swearing in black and white witnesses; a request for separate gallows for condemned prisoners) would seem pathetic but for the sadistic violence that backed them. A chapter on lynching features the tale of Sam Hose, a black laborer who murdered his white boss in self-defense. Wrongly accused of raping the man’s wife, Hose was mutilated, stabbed, and burned alive in front of 2,000 cheering whites. His body was sold piecemeal to souvenir seekers; an Atlanta meat market displayed his knuckles in its front window for a week. Such brutality, Litwack notes, was regularly perpetrated by the South’s “best” citizens in the name of curbing black savagery. Despite the totality of white domination, one wishes Litwack had responded more thoroughly to black subornation of white power. Still, by gathering these disparate voices together, he makes an invaluable contribution to the written record of this country’s most reprehensible moral outrage. (8 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 27th, 1998
ISBN: 0-394-52778-X
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1998