Remembering Jim Crow

It is always a concern to historians when we start to lose a generation that experienced a unique period in our history. It should be a concern to us all because no amount of research or factual documentation can replace the voice of the witnesses. In the 1990s a group of students from Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies undertook to record the voices of those people who had lived in the segregated south.

Lots of these youngsters now don’t remember. They really don’t. You tell them things that happened, they just can’t believe it. That’s why they can’t appreciate Martin Luther King, because they don’t know what happened. . . Hard to visualize it.   p. 187

Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell about Life in the Segregated South consists of thousands of accounts of every aspect of life in the south, some beginning before the end of slavery up until the 1960s. Most of the accounts are tinged with fear more than bitterness. Fear of the law, fear of the lawlessness of lynchings, fear of poverty, evictions, rape, and beatings.

There was a Mr. Fields that was killed by a lynch mob. You will never guess why he was killed. One of his dogs jumped on this white man’s dog and beat him up. They killed him because he should have been able to control his dogs. They killed him because “my dog beat your dog.” p. 18

The accounts are spare but vividly told. There is great determination to improve one’s circumstances against oppressive odds, but also an acceptance that “that’s just the way things are.”

[My mother] would give me instructions before I’d leave home . . .  “If you pass any white people on your way, you get off the sidewalk. Give them the sidewalk. You move over.  Don’t challenge white people.”  So I was brought up in that environment.

Most blacks in the South felt that way, until the late fifties and sixties, when Dr. King come along with his philosophy, and it started giving black people some hope that the way we were being treated wasn’t right and this thing can change. Whenever I would hear Dr. King talk, it seemed like he was touching me from the inside.  P. 7-8

-Review by Janet T., Reference Librarian

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