Miles To Go for Freedom: Segregation and Civil Rights in the Jim Crow Years
This amazing work, published in association with the Library of Congress and using primary sources from its rich archives, documents in great detail the “Jim Crow” years of the African- American experience in the United States. This book takes the approach of looking at Jim Crow’s segregationist policies and impact first in the South, then in the North, and finally provides an overall national picture of its devastation.
Although many history books can be impersonal, providing an overview of general groups, this book uses quotes from people who experienced the impact of Jim Crow first-hand. The preface, for example, begins: “At fifteen, I was fully conscious of the racial difference, and while I was sullen and resentful in my soul, I was beaten and knew it.” (Albon Holsey).
Author Osborne does a skilful job of always bringing the larger issues back to the individuals who had to endure them. The song and dance that gave Jim Crow its persona and name came from the performance routine of a white actor, Thomas “Daddy” Rice who performed pretending to be a black man sometime around 1828. A photo of the sheet music — the primary source —shows the stereotypical intention. Surprisingly, the term “Jim Crow” came to be used in general to refer to black people by 1838 and, by the 1890s, “it described the race-based way of life developing in the South. Jim Crow came to mean ‘second-class citizen.’”
This important book bears testimony to a shameful epoch in United States history, examining closely the specter that hovers over race relations in this country to the present day. Only by reading, looking, examining closely, and listening to the never-dead voices of its victims —carefully preserved in the Library of Congress and presented in distinguished books such as this one — can we ever hope to see a day when Jim Crow finally packs his bags and leaves us forever. This book should be in every library. It is not only a history book for young people. It is a history book for every citizen and student of United States history during this time period. 128 pages Ages 10 and up
Recommended by Shari Shaw, M.L.I.S., Librarian, Michigan, USA
“Justice John Marshall Harlan was the only Supreme Court judge in 1896 to
disagree with the [Plessy] decision. He wrote, ‘The constitution of the
United States does not, I think, permit any public authority to know the race
of those entitled to be protected in the enjoyment of [their civil] rights.
’ Harlan also wrote that ‘the common government of all shall not permit
the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of the law. What
can more certainly arouse race hate…than state enactments which…proceed on
the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they
cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens.’”
(At least we know that somebody back then could see the truth.)
Reading MILES TO GO FOR FREEDOM, I find myself hoping that America’s
greatest days might somehow still be ahead of her. I find it impossible to
read about these years (1896-1954) and imagine that the so-called American
Century -- which this book spans the first half of -- is as good as it will
ever get around here.
The way I see it, MILES TO GO FOR FREEDOM is the story of two landmark
Supreme Court decisions and the Jim Crow laws that spread like wildfire in the
wake of the Court’s 1896 infamous Plessy v. Ferguson decision. The story
contains an abundance of shocking examples of the absolute idiocy that
grew out of this rotten Supreme Court decision in support of (supposedly)
separate but equal facilities.
“There were no signs to remind blacks and whites how to respond to each
other when they met. Custom and habit told them what to say and do. ‘White
men and women were addressed as “Mr. and Mrs.,”’ said Kenneth Young of
Alabama. ‘You didn’t address blacks that way.’ White people often called
black men ‘boy’ and black women ‘auntie’ instead of using their proper
names. When mail came to the post office in Bolivar County, Mississippi, even
as late as the 1930s, the white postal workers would cross out the word ‘
Mr.’ on an envelope going to a black man.
In 1939, African American Eloise
Blake was arrested and fined fifteen dollars in Columbia, South Carolina,
for asking to speak to ‘Mrs. Pauline Clay’ on the telephone. Mrs. Clay was
a maid. Her white employer answered the phone and turned Blake in to the
police for using ‘Mrs.’ as a courtesy before the name of a black woman.”
MILES TO GO FOR FREEDOM also reveals that while there were actual Jim Crow
laws all over the South enforcing segregation in every imaginable (and
unimaginable) aspect of life, there were also plenty of comparable written and
unwritten laws in many other parts of the country, outside of the South,
that resulted in similar, de facto segregation of black and white
Finally, fifty-eight years after the Plessy decision screwed up the
country royally; the Supreme Court did a one-eighty and decided in the 1954 Brown
v. Board of Education decision that separate public schools were
inherently unequal. Everything belatedly began changing for the better (though, of
course, it took years of pain and struggle by civil rights supporters to
force implementation of integration). But at the root of that change was
that unanimous Supreme Court decision in Brown.
So, in reading this photo-filled volume, as we approach the next election
of the President of the United States, I cannot help but imagine the
Presidential election in terms of what future Supreme Court justices will be
nominated by the victor to join the Court over the next four years. As they
each serve the Court over who-knows-how-many-years (until they retire or
die), will these future justices contribute to a majority that makes idiotic
decisions like Plessy or thoughtful, moral ones like Brown?
If that thought is not enough to get you off your butt to go vote on
November 6th, then I don’t know what else to tell you.