For a hundred years after the end of the Civil War, a quarter of all Americans lived under a system of legalized segregation called Jim Crow. Together with its rigidly enforced canon of racial "etiquette," these rules governed nearly every aspect of life--and outlined draconian punishments for infractions.
The purpose of Jim Crow was to keep African Americans subjugated at a level as close as possible to their former slave status. Exceeding even South Africa's notorious apartheid in the humiliation, degradation, and suffering it brought, Jim Crow left scars on the American psyche that are still felt today. American Nightmare examines and explains Jim Crow from its beginnings to its end: how it came into being, how it was lived, how it was justified, and how, at long last, it was overcome only a few short decades ago. Most importantly, this book reveals how a nation founded on principles of equality and freedom came to enact as law a pervasive system of inequality and virtual slavery.
Although America has finally consigned Jim Crow to the historical graveyard, Jerrold Packard shows why it is important that this scourge--and an understanding of how it happened--remain alive in the nation's collective memory.
This is a clear, concise, historical narrative of a draconian reality: how U.S. legal statutes were partially generated by, and in turn bolstered, racist social conditions and entrenched customs. Writing simply and with passion, Packard (Victoria's Daughters) begins with the surprising fact that African-Americans, as well as whites, were first brought to America as indentured servants. But by 1670, laws were in place that consigned African-Americans to slavery. While not offering any new or startling analysis, the strength of the book is its accumulation of detail. Packard's background on Homer Plessy, whose case generated the Supreme Court's 1896 Plessyv. Ferguson decision legally codifying "separate but equal," is moving. Teddy Roosevelt's landmark White House dinner with Booker T. Washington is shown to have been a casual invitation, not a planned political move. A 1969 study showed that less than 1% of African-Americans worshiped with their white counterparts. One of the nine high school students needing the assistance of Federal troops in 1957 to attend the newly integrated school in Little Rock, Ark., was later expelled for responding to racist taunts. Packard carefully places these facts in a firm historical context. Even when the material is familiar, he weaves it into a sturdy and often shocking American tapestry.