In Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore's book Gender & Jim Crow, Gilmore illustrates the relations between African Americans and white in North Caroline from 1896 to 1920, as well as relations between the men and women of the time. She looks at the influences each group had on the Progressive Era, both politically and socially. Gilmore's arguments concern African American male political participation, middle-class New South men, and African American female political influences. The book follows a narrative progression of African American progress and relapse. Gilmore argues that African American male political participation between 1890 and 1898 represented a movement toward greater inclusion. She claims that African American males in politics strove for the balance of power between political parties in North Carolina, and that the Populist-Republican victory in 1896 kept African American votes in contention and maintained some African American men in political office for a short period of time.
There was an agreement between African Americans and whites that the "Best Men," middle class African Americans, were to be the only African Americans to hold office. This was because by being dubbed the "Best Men," they had met certain standards and were suitable for office according to the white politicians. The "Best Men" clashed with the South's "New White Man," who sought to re-monopolize voting rights and political power, as well as to completely dominate African Americans. Gilmore attributes the "New White Man's" goals to these men's bitterness towards their fathers who were blamed for the defeat in the Civil War, southern underdevelopment, and black progress. Nonetheless, African American men rapidly increased power in politics when many positions became publicly elected. Gilmore reasons that the progress of African American men in politics caused upwardly mobile and middle-class New South men, Southern Progressives, to formulate disenfranchisement and Jim Crow laws, and to later blame the deficient "cracker" for acting on their verbal violence.
She also says that white supremacists reacted to white women's movement into public space, urbanization, industrialization, and African-American advancement, and "responded to black power even as [they] capitalized on black weakness" (p 118). The "Best Men" were blamed for the supposed rapists and malingerers in the African American community since they had been placed in charge of the African American masses. The "Best Men" were discredited and eliminated as a political factor due to these beliefs. The white Democrats emphasized sexuality, placing race over class for women.
They generalized all black men as lusting for white women, which would explain their good behavior as seeking success, which would bring them closer to white women. The New South men claimed that African American progress of any sort meant a move toward social equality, a code word for sexual equality. Furnifold Simmons, Josephus Daniels, and Charles Ay cock were examples of white supremacists who used new stories and a propaganda campaign to convince the public that African American were only interested in white women, not success at all. The climax of New South men's hatred of African Americans was in 1898, when the Wilmington Massacre occurred, "it is at this moment that African American men vanish from accounts of southern political history." Meanwhile, white women were increasing in numbers in the workforce, which agitated the rising generation of southern white men. These men sought to re-institute rigid segregation in the workplace, and repressed white women of their opportunity to become intimate with African American men.
White women had a very different relationship with African American women than the white males and African American males had. The "better" class of white women did not promote disenfranchisement of African American women, they promoted other white women registering to vote, which would essentially cancel out the African American women votes. Leading African American women had a cordial relationship with their white counterparts in state and national women associations, temperance societies, and Christian organizations. Gilmore contends that "as black men were forced form the political, the political underwent a redefinition, opening new space for black women" (p xxi). She states that women became "diplomats to the white community" as they sought through church and civic voluntary societies to gain "some recognition and meager services from the expanding welfare state" (p xxi). Women's enfranchisement "forever altered the white supremacy's style and cleared a narrow path for black men to return to electoral politics" (xxi) as well.
The Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was appealing to African American middle-class women in the late 19 th century in North Carolina, and focused on female "moral superiority." These women targeted the drunk father and husband as evil, and a cause that all African Americans should work with. This was because of the increasing number of African American who were drinking and becoming less helpful in progression of African Americans. The WCTU believed that women had the authority in matters involving family morality. They were also famous for condoning lynching, which they thought to be the result of African American males raping white females.
African American women, Gilmore proves, were more active in this movement because African American men were viewed as a potential threat that should be conquered, while the women were trusted as nurturers from the days of slavery. Important African American women personalities in the post-bellum period learned to organize and took advantage of the mechanisms for race improvement available to them and effected social change despite the Jim Crow laws that were in effect. The class of African American women was also acceptable to whites as ambassadors for the "race," and was not seen as a competitor with African American men. Julia Sad gwar, Charlotte Hawkins Brown, and Sarah Dudley Petty were big influences of the improvement of African Americans. By keeping African American women in leadership roles, the African American race still had some say in politics, which kept the door open for men to enter back into politics later.
Gilmore has legitimate evidence and sources for her arguments, most of which are stated in the bibliography. She also has family background in North Caroline which is directly connected to some of the people she discusses as influences. Her grandfather was a physician to a number of leading African American women, and her mother was secretary for an attorney who defended numerous African American women in high positions. Gilmore is said to be "one of the most acclaimed historians in the last decade for her studies of the South" by Yale University, where she is a professor of history. She has published articles on southern history and won a number of awards for Gender & Jim Crow. She is also a native southerner, as she grew up in North Carolina.
I agree with her arguments, and found a great deal of the information in this book surprising, and also disturbing. I did not know a lot of the history of race relation in North Carolina, which was different from the rest of the south since whites barely outnumbered African Americans at that time in North Carolina. Because of this legal segregation came late and was more intense since the African Americans were able to put up more of a fight. All of Gilmore's evidence supports her arguments, and makes a lot of sense. She did enough research and knows enough about the South that there is no reason any of the standpoints that she makes should be false. Glenda Gilmore's book Gender & Jim Crow shows a different point of view from a majority of history of the south and proves many convictions that are not often stated.
Her stance from the African American point of view shows how harsh relations were at this time, as well as how hard they tried for equity in society. Gilmore's portrayal of the Progressive Era is very straightforward and precise, by placing educated African American women at the center of Southern political history, instead of merely in the background.