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Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia / Edition 1

Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia / Edition 1

by Jane Dailey
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Long before the Montgomery bus boycott ushered in the modern civil rights movement, black and white southerners struggled to forge interracial democracy in America. This innovative book examines the most successful interracial coalition in the nineteenth-century South, Virginia's Readjuster Party, and uncovers a surprising degree of fluidity in postemancipation southern politics.

Melding social, cultural, and political history, Jane Dailey chronicles the Readjusters' efforts to foster political cooperation across the color line. She demonstrates that the power of racial rhetoric, and the divisiveness of racial politics, derived from the everyday experiences of individual Virginians—from their local encounters on the sidewalk, before the magistrate's bench, in the schoolroom. In the process, she reveals the power of black and white southerners to both create and resist new systems of racial discrimination. The story of the Readjusters shows how hard white southerners had to work to establish racial domination after emancipation, and how passionately black southerners fought each and every infringement of their rights as Americans.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807849019
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 12/18/2000
Series: Gender and American Culture
Edition description: 1
Pages: 292
Sales rank: 372,026
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Jane Dailey, associate professor of history at The Johns Hopkins University, is coeditor of Jumpin' Jim Crow: Southern Politics from Civil War to Civil Rights.

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Before Jim Crow
The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia

By Jane Elizabeth Dailey

University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2000 The University of North Carolina Press.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0807825875


In Jazz, Toni Morrison's novel set in the Harlem of the 1920s, the narrator fills in the past of the main characters, Violet and Joe Trace. They had come to the city from Virginia in the years just before the Great War, in search of diversion and anonymity, and to get away from want and white violence. When Violet was a child, the narrator tells us, her father had been forced to abandon his home and visit his family in secret because "he had been mixed in and up with the Readjuster Party, and when a verbal urging from the landowners had not worked, a physical one did the trick and he was persuaded to transfer hisself someplace, anyplace, else." That was not the end of it, though: the year Violet turned twelve, her father's crop failed and the landlord exercised a lien on the family's possessions in retaliation, the family supposed, for the father's "joining a party that favored niggers voting."[1]

The Readjuster Party—the party that "favored niggers voting"—was the most successful interracial political alliance in the postemancipation South. An independent coalition of black and white Republicans and white Democrats, the Readjusters governed Virginia from 1879 to 1883. During this period a Readjuster governor occupied the statehouse, two Readjusters represented the Old Dominion in the U.S. Senate, and Readjusters served six of Virginia's ten congressional districts. Led by the serenely improbable former Confederate general, slaveholder, and railroad magnate William Mahone, the coalition controlled the state legislature and the courts, and held and distributed the state's many coveted federal patronage positions. A black-majority party, the Readjusters legitimated and promoted African American citizenship and political power by supporting black suffrage, officeholding, and jury service. To a degree previously unseen in Virginia and unmatched elsewhere in the nineteenth-century South, the Readjusters became an institutional force for the protection and advancement of black rights and interests. Although the coalition controlled state politics for only four years, its legislative and judicial legacy endured long past 1883 and its political organization became the blueprint for modern politics in Virginia. For all these reasons, the Readjusters inspired both hope and foreboding outside the borders of the commonwealth. A main purpose of this book is to understand why the hope was so strong and the foreboding so deep.

Toni Morrison does not invoke the Readjusters in Jazz to celebrate their many achievements. For her, the narrative value of the coalition lies chiefly in its ability to stand for the white violence and intolerance that encouraged the northern exodus of southern blacks in the twentieth century. Jazz's story of a black man and his family punished for the assertion of political autonomy is a familiar narrative of post-Civil War southern history. The tale of the Virginia roots of Joe and Violet Trace echoes the stories of thousands of other black Americans who moved from the rural South to the urban North after 1900.[2] Yet Morrison's evocation of the Readjusters subverts her sketch of the postwar South. Her allusion to the coalition reminds us that black southerners were not always denied a significant role in the New South. African Americans fled a region whose white ruling class took deliberate steps to circumscribe all possibility of black political, economic, and social power. Within the logic of white supremacy, the necessity of taking those steps was drilled home for many southern whites by the actions of people like the Readjusters. The votes of African Americans were not "meaningless in the post-Reconstruction South," as some scholars continue to assert.[3] Rather, the very success of black men in politics contributed to their eventual exclusion from public authority at the turn of the twentieth century. Legal barriers to African American power and influence—the creation of the Jim Crow South—grew out of white southerners' specific and concrete encounters with black social, economic, and political power.[4]

The Readjusters were not the only interracial political coalition in the postemancipation South. Although I have chosen to focus on black suffrage in Virginia and the possibilities that African American enfranchisement offered that state, the problem is a more general one. Between 1865 and the turn of the twentieth century every state south of the Mason-Dixon line experimented with political alliances that spanned the color line. Some were more successful, and some were more lasting, than others. The Republican Party provided the original example of interracial coalition during the late 1860s and 1870s. Even after the end of congressional Reconstruction in 1877—the year President Rutherford B. Hayes removed the last federal troops from those parts of the former Confederacy still occupied militarily—Republican electoral candidates at the county and congressional levels drew a considerable amount of support. In the Upper South in particular, Republican or "fusion" candidates, who represented coalitions of Republicans, Democrats, and later Populists, challenged Democratic attempts to define politics along race lines. Between 1876 and 1896, eighteen Republicans or Readjusters were elected to Congress from Virginia. Tennessee sent fourteen Republicans to the House of Representatives during those same years. North Carolina Republicans mounted a continual challenge to the Democrats and were able to carry seven out of nine congressional districts at least once in this period. Half of these districts elected Republicans repeatedly. In addition, four southern congressional districts sent one or more African Americans to Congress, including one each from North Carolina and Virginia.[5]

In the 1880s independent coalition parties eclipsed the Republicans as the vehicle for interracial political cooperation in the South. In both the Upper and Lower South, schisms among white Democrats made space for new alliances between black and white men. Southern Democrats splintered along a variety of fault lines, but one of the deepest chasms emerged out of disputes over public spending and activist government. In the context of explicit battles over state fiscal policy and priorities, black and white southerners dissatisfied with the local manifestations of their respective national parties identified a thread of common interest that emphasized class status and civil rights and downplayed race. In addition to unhappiness over questions of government spending and taxation, southern Independents opposed election fraud and intimidation and demanded a "free ballot and a fair count"; they denounced elite control of government, or what they called "ring rule"; they called for debtor laws that did not openly favor creditors; and they attacked Democratic white solidarity slogans for obscuring the class interests that bound nonelite white and black southerners. In general, Independents, Greenbackers, and later the Populists desired state and local government to work in the interest of the great mass of ordinary citizens by providing free public education, protecting men's political rights, and curbing the power of economic elites to exploit the labor of farmers and workers.[6] One Alabama Republican explained his vote for the Greenback-Labor Party this way: "There are questions of more vital importance in southern politics than banking and currency. . . . They are issues such as fair elections, an honest count, free thought, free speech, free government itself."[7] An independent-minded Georgian amplified these sentiments and addressed himself to the charge that Independents were "levelers": "All the leveling we have ever attempted," he explained, "is to level upwards. We wish to elevate the downtrodden to an equal participation in the blessings of Government, in as much as they are bound to bear more than their proportion of its burdens."[8]

In two southern states—Virginia and Tennessee—third-party interracial alliances gained control of the state government during the 1880s. In North Carolina, disaffected Republicans and dissident Democrats emboldened by the Readjusters' success coalesced in 1882. They lost, but they came close enough to winning to impress a young Furnifold M. Simmons—later known for his role in the white supremacist campaign of 1898—with the wisdom of appealing to the black vote in 1884.[9] Eight years later struggling white farmers began to desert the Democratic Party, and by 1894 North Carolina was governed by a Populist-Republican coalition. In Alabama the Greenbackers successfully combined the votes of white and black coal miners and farmers, while in Mississippi and Georgia black Republicans allied with moderate Democrats against both the GOP and a local Independent movement.[10] In gubernatorial elections during the 1880s across the South a quarter or more of white voters crossed the color line to vote for a black-majority party.[11] Far from being solid, as it has sometimes been asserted, southern politics in the post-Civil War era was exceptionally fluid. To scratch the surface of the "solid South" in the late nineteenth century was to discover multiple competing interest groups divided by region, race, ideology, and class.

African Americans were an important, though not monolithic, voice in this contest. The success of non-Democratic political parties in the South depended on the ballots of black men, who voted in most places throughout the late nineteenth century. Of course, as the fate of Violet's family in Jazz suggests, black men often exercised their right to vote at considerable cost. Black suffrage never went unchallenged in the postwar South, especially by members of the landowning and mercantile elites, who resorted to physical violence and intimidation when such impediments as the poll tax and ballot box fraud failed to eliminate the black vote. It was this class that was behind the drive to divest black men of the franchise once and for all through revision of state constitutions between 1890 and 1908.[12] Angry about the social and economic disaster of war and emancipation, elite southern whites nursed a more general anxiety over the political catastrophe of seeing black men raised to the status of voter and lawmaker.

The most central problem of Reconstruction was how to create interracial democracy in the South. How could newly enfranchised black men be incorporated into a preexisting political system? As the most successful interracial democratic political movement in the postwar South, the Readjusters are a splendid example of the problems faced by those looking for common ground between black and white southern men and the formulas they developed to enable politics across the color line. In making the methodological and narrative decisions involved in the writing of any book, I have chosen to focus here on only some of these problems. Before Jim Crow is not offered as a comprehensive history of the Readjuster movement or of Virginia politics between emancipation and disfranchisement. The riches of the William Mahone Papers have much to offer any scholar interested in those projects, although they have not been mine.

This volume is concerned chiefly with how Virginians formed ideas about race and how these ideas functioned politically within a specific context. At the heart of the book is the tension between, on the one hand, attempts to establish white supremacy, to remove African Americans from participation in the body politic, and, on the other, the struggle to build cross-race political coalitions. Historical scholarship has focused extensively on the first part of this narrative, stressing the incontestable fact that black suffrage and political influence were not irrevocably established throughout the South until after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, following a century of political, economic, and social discrimination. But this is the view from afar, in which recollections of nineteenth-century southern interracial movements are displaced by the history of the South after 1900. By then, almost all African Americans and a significant minority of white men had been stripped of political power through poll taxes, literacy tests, and Democratic electoral fraud and violence. By then, a rising tide of segregation laws had defined racial identity through genealogy and location, by putting and keeping African Americans in their "place." By then, the South had become best known for the degenerate behavior of its white lynch mobs, which shot, hanged, and burned alive African Americans from Virginia to Texas. This is the South of living memory; this is the South memorialized in popular culture and most standard American histories; and this is the South whose overturning by the civil rights movement is rightly celebrated.

Faced with the obscenity and scope of the Jim Crow South, it is easy to see white supremacy as irresistible and to pass over attempts at interracial political cooperation between 1877 and 1900. But these attempts mattered just as much, and were often as heroic, as those of our more recent and eulogized past. The difference between them is that with the benefit of hindsight we can see that the nineteenth-century efforts to create a shared interracial political world failed. Knowing where we ended up, it has been difficult to imagine that we were ever elsewhere or that the route from there to here was not direct. By focusing intently on the hard-fought political battles of Readjuster Virginia, this book shows how significant these early encounters were. In particular, it demonstrates that late-nineteenth-century formulations of white supremacist racial ideology did not represent an easy continuation of past oppressions. It was not at all clear after the war that antebellum racial hierarchies could be reproduced in the context of the Reconstruction amendments to the federal Constitution, which outlawed slavery, embraced African Americans as citizens, and enfranchised black men. Although postwar southern society was eventually reranked according to racial hierarchy, the path from emancipation to Jim Crow was rockier than is sometimes realized, with many detours and switchbacks along the way. New forms of white dominance coalesced through the lived, and often conflictual, everyday experiences of black and white southerners after emancipation. The white supremacist South was not preordained, and its victory was never certain.

Others before me have challenged the interpretation that the Jim Crow South was inevitable. In 1955 historian C. Vann Woodward and novelist James Baldwin each confronted the aura of predestination surrounding southern race relations. In The Strange Career of Jim Crow, Woodward defanged southern racial apologists who defended legal segregation and discrimination by race as the foundation of the "southern way of life" by showing that the social and political relations of segregation that characterized the mid-twentieth-century South did not reach back to emancipation but had instead replaced a more flexible and integrated racial system that developed between 1865 and 1900. By reaching back into the decades before Jim Crow, Woodward showed that white supremacy was not timeless or natural but rather the result of individual actions undertaken as part of a calculated campaign to render African Americans political and economic dependents and social unequals.[13] The apparent seamlessness between the antebellum and the twentieth-century South's system of racial hierarchy was illusory, argued Woodward; what looked like continuity had been painfully forged out of a deep historical disjuncture in the thirty years between emancipation and disfranchisement. James Baldwin also spotlighted the contingent and discordant nature of southern race relations. "The history of the American Negro problem is not merely shameful, it is also something of an achievement," he remarked. "For even when the worst has been said, it must also be added that the perpetual challenge posed by this problem was always, somehow, perpetually met." Far from being static, Baldwin emphasized, the South's "Negro problem" was dynamic, a "perpetual challenge" that had to be repeatedly "met."[14]

What has become known as the "Woodward thesis" has held up best with reference to politics. Woodward's argument about the fluidity of southern race relations and the region's forgotten interracial political alternatives focused mainly on law and electoral politics; it was reinforced by studies published in the 1970s and 1980s that documented a significant hardening of white southern racial attitudes between 1888 and 1900.[15] In areas of life not generally considered overtly political, however, later work challenged Woodward's claims about the malleability and variety of race relations in the postwar South by showing that, from the moment of emancipation, segregation rather than integration characterized private sexual relations, most churches, militia companies, patriotic celebrations, voluntary organizations, schools, state and private welfare institutions, and a host of other activities.[16] This interpretational division between postwar southern politics and society has resulted in a curious narrative of southern history in which black southerners are seen to "retreat" into their own private world at precisely the same time that they form the most effective interracial political alliances before the civil rights movement.[17]

One purpose of Before Jim Crow is to demonstrate the analytic impossibility of isolating "politics" from these other "social" realms. This emphasis on the futility of distinguishing political and social concerns represents more than simply a desire to blend the insights of social and political history. A central theme of this book is the instability of social categories. By this I mean first the difficulty of pinpointing the boundaries between such categories as political identity, gender identity, and racial identity. But more important, in pointing out the instability of social, political, and cultural categories in Readjuster Virginia I mean to mark the points at which one category (say, partisan identity) cannot be constituted except through another (for example, racial identity). Rather than simply juxtaposing categories such as race, class, and gender, I try in this book to uncover and explain the dynamic interrelations among categories and to underscore the reliance of any one on a variety of others for definition and formulation within a particular setting.[18]

Because southerners worked out the margins of identity and the meaning of those margins over the last two decades of the nineteenth century, they saw the period as dynamic, filled with moments of hope and despair, rather than as an extended prelude to Jim Crow. This sense of movement, of possibility, has not dominated historical assessments of the period. Scholarly narratives of southern political history have in the past flattened out regional variations and drowned out local cadences in ways that have impoverished our appreciation of the complexities of racism and power in the postemancipation South. Harold D. Woodman's historiographical assessment of the postwar South is typical of a broader homogenizing approach, which tends to skip chronologically from 1865 or 1877 to 1900. "Once the adjustment to emancipation had been made and once the disruption and uncertainty of war and Reconstruction had ended, social and economic relations in the South remained stable for some three-quarters of a century," writes Woodman, who adds that "nowhere did political Reconstruction extend beyond 1877." Carl Degler, whose book The Other South: Southern Dissenters in the Nineteenth Century argued for the possibilities of an alternative southern political history, nonetheless undercut the importance of nineteenth-century attempts to realize this history when he categorized them as "failures." George M. Fredrickson, who is a sympathetic critic of nineteenth-century southern attempts to circumnavigate the race problem, still concluded that "viable movements transcending racial lines never came close to fruition during Reconstruction or after." Most recently, Leon F. Litwack, one of the most insightful interpreters of southern and African American history, has insisted that by the end of the 1870s "the promise of a biracial democratic society" had been betrayed in the South.[19]

The Readjusters contradict this view. It is not surprising, then, that they have often been dismissed (when they are not neglected entirely) as an aberration, compartmentalized as a historical accident of little or no consequence for the rest of the South or the nation. Rather than challenge the broad conventions of southern history, historians of Virginia frequently erase the Readjuster era. Crandall A. Shifflett's Patronage and Poverty in the Tobacco South, for instance, skips directly from 1876 to 1884, proposing a seamless trend toward less popular democracy in postwar Virginia. Charles Preston Poland Jr.'s From Frontier to Suburbia, which purports to be an inclusive history of Loudoun County from 1725 to 1972, omits the years 1877 to 1887 outright.[20] These are admittedly extreme examples. But even historians who have written about the Readjusters downplay the importance of the movement and their own work when confronted with the incongruence between Virginia's political history and the political narrative of the region as a whole. James Tice Moore, who restored the Readjusters to prominence in postwar Virginia historiography, later dismissed them and other late-nineteenth-century efforts to limit the political power of white elites.[21]

The most salient fact about the Readjusters—for historians as well as for Toni Morrison—has become their failure, because only through that failure can the coalition be trimmed to fit the standard narrative of post-Civil War southern history. Thus configured, the Readjusters' failure may be attributed to "the race issue"—to the implications of the Readjusters being "a party that favored niggers voting." The first scholar of the Readjusters, Charles Chilton Pearson, explained the downfall of the coalition as the predictable result of "race antagonism." Sixty years later James Tice Moore described the Readjusters as a movement that "collapsed after a few years, torn apart by racial antagonisms." A recent reconsideration of the failure of nonelite whites in one Virginia city to make common cause with their African American class allies concludes that white Virginians "could not divorce themselves from the ancient [race] prejudices and were thus reluctant to share power with blacks."[22] These explanations of the failure of interracial democracy in Virginia rely on the explanatory power of white racism, which is conceived of as timeless and unchanging—indeed, "ancient"—and simplify what was a complex nexus of partisan rivalry, political and economic domination, white and black male concerns over manhood rights and sexual access to women, racial identity, and everyday contests for dignity and respect.[23]

Asking how "the race issue" functioned in particular times and places by uncovering the moments when questions of racial identity and its relationship to other social categories took on political meaning makes it possible to challenge the teleological approach to late-nineteenth-century southern history. And seeing white racial ideology as grounded in social relations reveals the power of black and white southerners to both structure and resist new systems of racial domination. This focus on agency and context, this stress on the particular lived experiences through which social categories and political languages gained meaning and form in postemancipation Virginia, leads to a consideration of southern political culture in terms of a process in which white dominance was continuously re-created rather than a product that was simply perpetuated.[24]

Because this book is about the definition and interrelations of categories of identity and the politically combustible combinations of these categories, chronology has not proved the most useful organizing principle. Bounded loosely by Virginia's Radical Republican 1868 constitution and its disenfranchising successor of 1902, the chapters are organized thematically and overlap.

The book begins with electoral politics: both the politics that preceded the Readjusters and the practical politics necessary to the formation of the third-party coalition. Chapter 1 outlines the prehistory of the Readjuster movement from emancipation through the creation of the coalition in 1879. Unraveling the connections between suffrage, public education, debt, and taxation, this chapter explains how nonelite white and black Virginians came to perceive a common identity of interest powerful enough to override established partisan identities. While other black southerners in search of social and political autonomy packed their bags and headed west to Kansas, black Virginians put their faith in the ballot and exploited political division among whites. The formation of the Readjuster coalition reveals greater inclination among black southerners to ally with non-Republican whites than has previously been appreciated. At the same time, it is clear that the political behavior of nonelite southern whites cannot be explained solely—or at times even principally—in terms of race or racism.[25]

As Chapter 2 explains, after he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1881, Readjuster leader William Mahone gained the federal patronage for Virginia through a combination of unlikely circumstances and nerve. Control of the federal patronage turned out to be crucial to the success of the Readjusters. Patronage power gave the coalition a strong material foundation and encouraged the formation of a cohesive interracial political community with a common identity and goals. But because patronage is fundamentally about public authority and hierarchy, the practical necessity of sharing patronage with black Readjusters posed certain social and political questions for the coalition's white members. The relations of domination and subordination explicit in patronage power enabled the Democrats to present Readjuster patronage policies as destabilizing to social hierarchies based on race. Black officeholding and jury service, for example, could be presented by opponents of the Readjusters as eroding white privilege. But black power in Virginia, as Chapter 2 details, did not result immediately in white backlash. Democratic zero-sum arguments that every black gain under the Readjusters represented an equivalent loss to white Virginians failed to draw white voters from the coalition.

Every effort to promote interracial cooperation in the postemancipation South was attacked by its opponents as an assault on white racial dominance. Warning sternly of the danger of "social equality," southern Democrats picked off interracial political coalitions and labor unions one by one. Chapter 3 considers the ideological underpinning of the coalition and the rhetorical and political strategies the Readjusters used to rebuff white supremacist assaults and contain racial anxiety and ill will. In an effort to protect the coalition from the corrosive effects of white men's fears about the future of white dominance in a world of enfranchised black men, the Readjusters turned to liberalism. Liberal ideals about masculine political equality and the sanctity of the home helped white Readjusters defend black suffrage but also gave them a rhetorical arsenal to repel Democratic arguments that interracial political cooperation led invariably to interracial homes. Drawing on the notion of a separation between public and private space at the heart of nineteenth-century American liberal theory and practice, white Readjusters argued that the line between the spheres paralleled the color line, and they insisted that liberalism could redraw political boundaries without disturbing the social status quo.

Drawing the color line parallel to the division between public and private space made room for political alliance among black and white men. But this strategy had dangers of its own. In essence, the question of where to draw the color line in Readjuster Virginia became rephrased as "at what point do black men encroach on white women?" Attempting to trump a racial hierarchy in the public sphere by retaining a gendered one in private, the Readjusters became vulnerable to political attacks by conservative critics who used gender to combat the racially progressive aspects of liberalism. A dramatic example of this may be seen in the collapse of the coalition in 1883 over issues of miscegenation manifested not through any epidemic of interracial sex or marriage but through black Readjusters' service in public office. Asserting a fundamental connection between black political and sexual power, Democrats argued that issues of public authority and private influence were related. There is nothing intrinsically obvious about the logic of such a claim, although that logic eventually became the cornerstone of racial politics in the New South. By investigating how that logic was formulated and resisted in Readjuster Virginia, we may reveal some of the processes that made the equation of black political power and sexual power seem both obvious and natural.

Strong enough to dissolve the old political order, the Readjusters could not master the social and ideological forces released by that dissolution.[26] The ramifications of interracial coalition extruded, in unanticipated ways, into daily life. Chapter 4 brings together the problems of how to define the boundaries of public space (and equality) and the interrelation of honor, gender, and race by focusing on the conception and performance of individual identity in public. In 1883 a dispute over street etiquette in the Piedmont manufacturing town of Danville escalated into a massacre when a white mob shot into a crowd of unarmed black men, women, and children. Following the shooting, white Democrats took control of the city in defiance of its elected Readjuster government and spread rumors of black insurrection throughout the state. Coming three days before an important state election, the violence in Danville and Democratic stories about it contributed significantly to the downfall of the Readjuster coalition.

The broad aim of Chapter 4 is to bare the links between civility and civil rights and between deference and violence in the postwar urban South. This chapter examines how black men and women in the New South enunciated their claim to civic equality through their behavior in urban public spaces and how some whites, determined to maintain their social, political, and economic control, responded to such behavior. In the absence of either a rigid system of racial hierarchy or mutually agreed upon conventions of public conduct between the races, questions of honor, hierarchy, and deference arose in every public encounter. Broad questions of racial domination and subordination were frequently distilled in public interactions on the streets of the urban South, and negotiation over the rules of common courtesy became a principal venue for the ongoing contest between blacks determined to assert their identity as civic actors and whites intent on denying blacks that power.

As observers of the South since Karl Marx have noted, emancipation and the actions of slaves and free people of color during the Civil War untied the formal connections in America between color and condition.[27] Without slavery to connect blackness and dependency, the meaning and worth of whiteness became unclear. As black men gained authority and visibility in Readjuster Virginia, white voters began to exhibit a heightened sensitivity to political languages of race. What W. E. B. Du Bois identified at the height of Jim Crow as the "public and psychological wage" of whiteness—deference on the streets, access to public spaces, control of the legal system, and superior public services, particularly schools—could be seen as threatened by interracial democracy and Readjuster patronage policies.[28] When black men supervised white postal workers or teachers or meted justice from the magistrate's bench or the jury box, white Virginians worried about the distribution of authority in public life and any fraying of traditional links between authority, race, and manhood.

The Democrats nurtured these anxieties by encouraging the idea that political alliance with black men could erode white men's racial identity. Chapter 5 shows how the practical political successes of the Readjusters undermined existing definitions of such categories of identity as party, race, and manhood. Because it supported African American civil and political participation, and distributed the material and honorific benefits of patronage to black Readjusters, the coalition could be presented as challenging both white superiority and white identity. Faced with the success of interracial rule under the Readjusters, Virginia Democrats stressed the interactive qualities of racial identity in an effort to realign the political and racial divide, and they encouraged the notion that whiteness was something that could be lost (but also regained).

In 1883 the Readjuster Party lost power in an election marred by violence, electoral intimidation, and fraud. Interracial democracy and black public power did not end with the defeat of the coalition, however. Between 1883 and the turn of the twentieth century various groups of black and white Virginians continued to make common political cause. These groups appeared in different guises: first as Republicans, then as Knights of Labor, still later as Populists. The task for the Democrats in Virginia as elsewhere in the late-nineteenth-century South was to constrain this coalition and with it the possibility for progressive politics in the South. As the Epilogue details, the Democrats pursued two simultaneous approaches to this end: they insisted that the categories of "white man" and "Democrat" were coterminous and exclusive, and they limited the popular vote through election laws and a new state constitution.

Together, the election laws passed in the 1880s and 1890s and the 1902 constitution ended most black voting in Virginia and cut the white electorate in half.[29] The expanded political universe that free and equal manhood suffrage had created in Virginia between 1868 and 1902 became after that the familiar white supremacist, one-party world of twentieth-century southern Democrats. But none of this was clear before 1902. Before then—before Jim Crow—nothing was sure and, it often seemed, anything was possible.

Excerpted from Before Jim Crow by Jane Elizabeth Dailey. Copyright © 2000 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Brimming with theoretical insights and intellectual wit.—Law and History Review

Impressive. . . . A sophisticated and complex analysis. . . . A provocative and important work, one that should influence the study of race for years to come.—Journal of Southern History

A nicely written and sharply observed study, which adds theoretical precision and empirical substance to the growing body of scholarship that treats race as a socially constructed, rather than a 'natural,' category of historical analysis.—Journal of American Studies

The narrative of the rise and fall of the Readjuster Party provides a mere backdrop against which Dailey explores several fascinating issues . . . . An important addition to the growing literature about race in the late nineteenth-century South.—American Historical Review

[A] fine book.—Journal of American History

In Before Jim Crow, Jane Dailey brilliantly recreates the world of the Readjusters in late nineteenth-century Virginia. Emphasizing the fluidity of southern politics after the Civil War, Dailey makes clear that the emergence of segregation and disfranchisement was not preordained. An indispensable book for anyone who wants to understand the opportunities and challenges involved in building an interracial democracy in the South.—Peter Bardaglio, Goucher College

Before Jim Crow is one of the most exciting books on the South I've read in years. Dailey not only recasts the history of post-Reconstruction southern politics by recovering the virtually forgotten history of the Readjusters (and the critical role black people played in the movement), but she reminds us that nothing is inevitable. Southerners might have taken another path, and only violence, intimidation, and a realignment of race undermined a more democratic future.—Robin D. G. Kelley, New York University

This is a fine book—an elegant blend of political and cultural history, and a model of what state-level political history ought to look like in the wake of recent advances in our understanding of identity.—Suzanne Lebsock, University of Washington

Before Jim Crow is an elegant, often sardonic study of the Readjuster movement.—Times Literary Supplement

This study aids in developing a more complete picture of race relations and the struggle for equality in nineteenth century America.—Civil War Book Review

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