Face Up to the Violence of Jim Crow
The New York Times - 01/06/2014
The U.S. civil rights movement was one of our country’s most important democratizing efforts. But the United States continues to grapple with how to acknowledge and understand the uglier aspects of its undemocratic past.
Scholarship has mostly analyzed Jim Crow’s undemocratic nature by focusing on black disenfranchisement. The coercion and violence that enforced political disenfranchisement and economic subordination have received far less attention. This has influenced the public understanding of that period which holds that protests, legal challenges and the power of moral suasion dismantled a bad Jim Crow system.
But we still know far too little about the attendant violence of Jim Crow. Databases, compiled by sociologists and historians, about mob violence (mostly in the South) provide us much-needed knowledge of lynchings up until 1930, when the black migration north had been in full force for a number of years. Yet subsequent violence remains woefully understudied.
I am working with the Northeastern University School of Law’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Program to construct an archive of racist homicides for the remaining decades. It is a daunting task.
The civil rights movement’s momentous successes did not remedy the individual harms of hundreds of undocumented acts of violence and other malfeasance. Democratizing societies must construct political, economic and social institutions that ensure that authoritarianism does not re-emerge. This reconstruction, though, requires tasks of remembrance so, through knowledge, the past is not repeated.