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The Progressive Era and Race: Reaction and Reform, 1900 - 1917

ISBN: 978-0-88295-234-5
240 pages
March 2005, ©2005, Wiley-Blackwell
The Progressive Era and Race: Reaction and Reform, 1900 - 1917 (088295234X) cover image

In this comprehensive, unflinching account, David W. Southern persuasively argues that race was the primary blind spot of the Progressive Movement. Based on the voluminous secondary works produced over the last forty years and his own primary research, Southern’s synthesis vividly portrays the ruthless exploitation, brutality, and violence that whites inflicted on African Americans in the first two decades of the twentieth century. In the former Confederate states, where almost 90 percent of blacks resided, white progressives followed the lead of racist demagogues such as “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman and James Vardaman by consolidating the Jim Crow system of legal segregation and the disfranchisement of blacks, resulting in the emergence of the one-party Democratic South. When legal discrimination did not sufficiently subordinate blacks, southern whites resorted liberally to fraud, intimidation, and violence—most notably in ghastly lynchings and urban race riots.

Yet, most northern progressives were either indifferent to the fate of southern blacks or actively supported the social system in the South. Yankee reformers obsessed over the concept of race and became ensnared in a web of “scientific racism” that convinced them that blacks belonged to an inferior breed of human beings. The tenures of both Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote more about race than any other American president, and Woodrow Wilson, who was reared in the Deep South, proved disastrous for African Americans, who reached their “nadir” even as Wilson led the United States on a crusade to make the world safe for democracy.

Southern goes on to persuasively reveal that African Americans courageously fought to change the implacably racist system in which they lived, against overwhelming odds. Indeed, it was the rise of the militant “New Negro” during the Progressive Era that provoked much of the anti-black repression and violence. Dr. Southern further examines how the origins of the modern civil rights movement emerged in the wake of the rivalry between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, going beyond an analysis of their leadership to illuminate other important African American activists who held strong views of their own.

Finally, an epilogue assesses the malignant racial heritage of the progressives by looking at the discrimination against African Americans, both those in and newly returned home from the armed forces, during World War I and the numerous race riots in northern cities that were in part occasioned by the large-scale migration of southern blacks.

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Foreword VII

Acknowledgments XI

INTRODUCTION 1

CHAPTER ONE: The Denise of Reconstruction and the Making of White Supremacy, 1895—1900 6

Why Radical Reconstruction Started and Why It Faltered 8

The Redeemer Governments and Blacks 21

The 1890s: The Triumph of Racism 24

The Abandonment of Blacks by the North 33

Blacks React to a Revolution Gone Backwards 38

CHAPTER TWO: Tough-Minded Progressives and Race 43

The Shape and Promise of Progressivism 44

Scientific Racism and the Progressive Mind 47

Progressive Activists and the Race Problem 56

Literacy and Popular Culture and Race 67

CHAPTER THREE: African Americans and Southern Progressivism 72

What Racism Wrought: The Social and Economic Conditions of Blacks 73

Southern Progressivism and Race 88

1. The New Black Threat 94

2. The Completion of Disfranchisement 97

3. The Rise of Jim Crow Laws 99

4. Black Education in the South 102

5. The Southern Justice System 105

CHAPTER FOUR: National Politics and Race, 1900—1917: The Great Betrayal 111

The Republican Party and the Race Question 112

The Watershed Election of 1912: The Democratic Triumph 122

The Supreme Court and Jim Crow 131

Black-White Relations in the North: Slouching toward the Nadir 133

CHAPTER FIVE: The Washington—Du Bois Feud, the “New Negro,” and the Rise of the NAACP 137

Booker T. Washington and the Strategy of Compromise and Gradualism 138

W. E. B. Du Bois and the Strategy of Protest 146

The Niagara Movement and the Revolt against Washington 158

The Rise of the NAACP 162

Other Voices and Other Paths to Racial Uplift 172

EPILOGUE: World War I and Beyond 182

Bibliographical Essay 194

Index 223

Photographs follows page 110

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David W. Southern is Professor of History at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. He received his B.A. at Alderson-Broaddus College and his M.A. and Ph.D., respectively, at Wake Forest and Emory Universities. He has authored three books on black-white relations in the United States: The Malignant Heritage: Yankee Progressives and the Negro Questions, 1901—1914 (1968), which won the William P. Lyons Master’s Essay Award in 1967; Gunnar Myrdal and Black-White Relations: The Use and Abuse of An American Dilemma, 1944—1969 (1987); and John LaFarge and the Limits of Catholic Interracialism, 1911—1963 (1996). The Myers Center Award for the Study of Human Rights in North America cited the books on Myrdal and LaFarge as outstanding works on intolerance in North America. Professor Southern was awarded a Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1982—1983.

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“The strengths of this book are manifest: graceful and engaging prose; an organization that builds momentum as the narrative progresses; broad-ranging analyses of how race permeated virtually every aspect of American life; and many fascinating discussions of the changing definitions of race. . . . A moving volume that will fit well into Harlan Davidson’s American History Series.”
–Loren Schweninger, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

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