The best books for understanding racial violence in the South after the Civil War

Kristina DuRocher Author Of Raising Racists: The Socialization of White Children in the Jim Crow South
By Kristina DuRocher

Who am I?

I remember when I saw the photograph of the lynching of Rubin Stacy, his corpse surrounded by white girls in their Sunday best dresses. For me the immediate question was, why would white parents take their children on an outing to this? What purpose is this memorial photograph serving? I have spent over twenty years exploring the answers, learning how cultures persist by teaching their dominant beliefs to the next generation, and considering the perpetuation of white supremacy from generation to generation.

I wrote...

Raising Racists: The Socialization of White Children in the Jim Crow South

By Kristina DuRocher,

Book cover of Raising Racists: The Socialization of White Children in the Jim Crow South

What is my book about?

White children rested at the core of the system of segregation between 1890 and 1939 because their participation was crucial to ensuring the future of white supremacy. Their socialization in the segregated South offers an examination of white supremacy from the inside, showcasing the culture's efforts to preserve itself by teaching its beliefs to the next generation.

My book reveals how white adults in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries continually reinforced race and gender roles to maintain white supremacy by tracing out the methods and spaces in which white adults fashioned an identity for their children. This socialization included participating in lynchings, and children’s involvement played a central role in these rituals of racial violence, revealing the lessons such incidents taught to white youth about using brute force to uphold racial segregation.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of To Kill a Mockingbird

Why did I love this book?

While fictional, Lee’s story reflects white southerners reactions to real and perceived threats to white womanhood, as white females embodied the contradictions and anxieties consuming white southerners during segregation. Told through the eyes of Scout, Atticus’s daughter, this novel explores racial and gendered tensions embedded within the justice system. Lee’s book represents a complexity of emotions surrounding segregation that cannot help but impact the reader with its empathy while offering insight into injustice, racism, and oppression.

By Harper Lee,

Why should I read it?

28 authors picked To Kill a Mockingbird as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.'

Atticus Finch gives this advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of this classic novel - a black man charged with attacking a white girl. Through the eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Lee explores the issues of race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s with compassion and humour. She also creates one of the great heroes of literature in their father, whose lone struggle for justice pricks the conscience of a town steeped…

Book cover of Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940

Why did I love this book?

In this academic work, Hale explores what she terms as “spectacle lynchings” and the shift from private to public violence. Hale considers how newspapers, photographs, and radio broadcasts brought news of these brutal scenes to an audience of tens of thousands. Through her careful examination, Hale lays out how the media shaped a national narrative that is relevant for both understanding conversations about racial violence and for considering how mass media shapes our current perspectives.

By Grace Elizabeth Hale,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Making Whiteness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Making Whiteness is a profoundly important work that explains how and why whiteness came to be such a crucial, embattled--and distorting--component of twentieth-century American identity.  In intricately textured detail and with passionately mastered analysis, Grace Elizabeth Hale shows how, when faced with the active citizenship of their ex-slaves after the Civil War, white southerners re-established their dominance through a cultural system based on violence and physical separation.  And in a bold and transformative analysis of the meaning of segregation for the nation as a whole, she explains how white southerners' creation of modern "whiteness" was, beginning in the 1920s, taken…

Killers of the Dream

By Lillian Smith,

Book cover of Killers of the Dream

Why did I love this book?

This autobiography of white Civil Rights activist Lillian Smith unpacks the society that shaped her as she struggled against her childhood lessons about how to interact with Whites and Blacks in the South. Smith deftly immerses you into her world with anecdotes, leading the reader through the interactions that shaped her and other white children across the South, including her experiences with racial violence and racism. Despite being written more than half a century ago, connections remain to our world. My recommendation is to read the 1994 version with an updated introduction placing the work into context.

By Lillian Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Killers of the Dream as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Published to wide controversy, it became the source (acknowledged or unacknowledged) of much of our thinking about race relations and was for many a catalyst for the civil rights movement. It remains the most courageous, insightful, and eloquent critique of the pre-1960s South.

"I began to see racism and its rituals of segregation as a symptom of a grave illness," Smith wrote. "When people think more of their skin color than of their souls, something has happened to them." Today, readers are rediscovering in Smith's writings a forceful analysis of the dynamics of racism, as well as her prophetic understanding…

Book cover of Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America

Why did I love this book?

Not for the faint of heart, this collection of lynching images bears witness to the extreme violence used to enforce segregation. Leon Litwack’s introduction contextualizes these displays as violence aimed to reinforce white supremacy and leads the reader through the reality of these events and their lasting consequences on race relations. The photographs are irrefutable evidence of how such events must be recorded to ensure they never again occur. Despite the horror of the images within, this book will forever change your understanding of our past.

By James Allen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Without Sanctuary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Many people today, despite the evidence, will not believe don't want to believe that such atrocities happened in America not so very long ago. These photographs bear witness to . . . an American holocaust." —Congressman John Lewis The Tuskegee Institute records the lynching of 3,436 blacks between 1882 and 1950. This is probably a small percentage of these murders, which were seldom reported, and led to the creation of the NAACP in 1909, an organization dedicated to passing federal anti-lynching laws. Through all this terror and carnage someone-many times a professional photographer-carried a camera and took pictures of the…

Book cover of Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases

Why did I love this book?

In this tract, Wells became the first person, Black or white, to distribute a systematically researched explanation for the rise in lynchings in the South during the late nineteenth century. Wells’s investigation into lynchings across the South countered the image perpetuated by the media that Black males possessed an uncontrolled sexual desire for white women. Instead, Wells noted that lynchings were a form of terrorism; acts of racial violence intended to maintain white economic, social, and political power. It was a gutsy move for a young, southern, Black woman, and it resulted in her being exiled from the South for fear of her life. The truths she exposed resonated with the Civil Rights Movement and reverberate in modern times as we consider race, Black masculinity, police authority, and legal equality.

By Ida B. Wells,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Southern Horrors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

These shocking accounts of lynching within the Southern States during the late nineteenth century remain no less poignant today than when they were first recorded. A terrible reminder of the violent consequences which ingrained racism has upon society, this book unflinchingly tells of the various laws throughout the USA which allowed crowds to hunt, beat and hang black Americans. This process of lynching persisted for decades, with several communities purposely photographing and publicising their aftermath. Prefaced with a letter from the anti-slavery and black rights campaigner Frederick Douglass, this book describes the various incidents which resulted from authorities turning a…

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