In 1919 the NAACP organized a voting bloc powerful enough to compel the city of Atlanta to budget $1.5 million for the construction of schools for black students. This victory would have been remarkable in any era, but in the context of the Jim Crow South it was revolutionary. Schooling Jim Crow tells the story of this little-known campaign, which happened less than thirteen years after the Atlanta race riot of 1906 and just weeks before a wave of anti-black violence swept the nation in the summer after the end of World War I. Despite the constant threat of violence, Atlanta’s black voters were able to force the city to build five black grammar schools and Booker T. Washington High School, the city’s first publicly funded black high school. Schooling Jim Crow reveals how they did it and why it matters.
In this pathbreaking book, Jay Driskell explores the changes in black political consciousness that made the NAACP’s grassroots campaign possible at a time when most black southerners could not vote, let alone demand schools. He reveals how black Atlantans transformed a reactionary politics of respectability into a militant force for change. Contributing to this militancy were understandings of class and gender transformed by decades of racially segregated urban development, the 1906 Atlanta race riot, Georgia’s disfranchisement campaign of 1908, and the upheavals of World War I. On this cultural foundation, black Atlantans built a new urban black politics that would become the model for the NAACP’s political strategy well into the twentieth century.
Driskell’s argument is clearly articulated, and the findings represent a substantial contribution to our understanding of Atlanta’s history as well as to larger scholarly debates. The book is particularly successful in analyzing intricate cultural and political struggles among African Americans over the meanings of racial justice and the best strategies for advancing civil rights. Driskell’s skill as a writer makes this book among the clearest and most engaging that I have ever encountered.
Driskell’s Schooling Jim Crow is a wonderful addition to the scholarship on African American politics during the early Jim Crow period, new studies on citizenship and urban life, and the literature about the operation of gender, class, and the politics of respectability in struggles for civil and human rights.... What is unique and fresh about Driskell’s work is that he shows how African Americans both used the politics of respectability to negotiate racial solidarity and adapted to the ever-shifting ground beneath their feet by their willingness to jettison this politics when it no longer seemed useful. It was, after all, a politics of respectability and not a rigid ideology.
This meticulously argued and informative study provides a foundation for comparative work on urban black politics during the Progressive era.
[A] fine addition that covers an impressive array of topics: the politics of respectability, interracial politics, gender and Jim Crow, early Jim Crow formal politics, the NAACP, Progressivism, and the South more generally.
It is difficult in a brief review to do justice to the subtlety and complexity of the story that Driskell tells. The author has integrated insights from a wide range of scholarly perspectives to provide us with an analysis of black politics in early twentieth-century Atlanta that is both significant and compelling. He has shown us, above all, that mass black protest politics in places like Atlanta was a product not of "arid intellectual debate over the best way for the race to advance" but emerged rather through concrete political struggles in the specific material circumstances of the New South city
Schooling Jim Crow is a well-written and well-argued text in which the author displays an eye for nuance and subtlety in his analysis.... An excellent book that demonstrates the complex interactions between issues of black identity, social class, and gender in ways that shed light upon contemporary society.
This detailed and persuasively written book contributes to the growing literature of local activism that makes civil rights history such a rich field and one of continual surprises.
Driskell successfully demonstrates the long process to change black politics that resulted in a major educational victory.... Schooling Jim Crow is an important text for graduate students and scholars interested in African American education, politics, and protest in the turn-of-the-twentieth-century urban South.
[A] very impressive piece of work—conceptually sophisticated yet grounded in a practical understanding of how grassroots politics and community organizing actually works, in practice.
"Driskell has produced a fine-grained analysis of how one city’s black elite grappled with the limits of the politics of respectability and formulated a new urban politics. This meticulously argued and informative study provides a foundation for comparative work on urban black politics during the Progressive Era.
Driskell offers an impressively broad analysis of the evolution of Atlanta’s racial, class, and gender politics.... One of the most impressive aspects of Driskell’s study is his gender analysis of the politics of white supremacy, using a range of local newspapers, speeches, and letters.