The best books about Jim Crow laws 📚

Browse the best books on Jim Crow laws as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of The Strange Career of Jim Crow

The Strange Career of Jim Crow

By C. Vann Woodward

Why this book?

This succinct and persuasive study of the profound failure to integrate the freed slave population in the U.S. after 1865 is a rare example of a scholarly work’s direct influence on governments and the process of reform.  The author’s premise and analysis is that popular and local official antipathy to emancipation led to enforced, violent segregation (Jim Crow) that was constitutionally affirmed in the 1896 Plessy case.  The book’s three editions follow the history of civil rights reform from the 1950s to the 1970s and the Supreme Court’s gradual dismantling of the Plessy rule. While Jim Crow law has been…

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The best books on African slavery in the Americas

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Book cover of All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw

All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw

By Theodore Rosengarten

Why this book?

Historian Ted Rosengarten assembled this riveting account from hours of conversation with 84-year-old Nate Shaw. Born to a former slave, Shaw began picking cotton for white landowners at the age of nine. Independent and proud, Shaw resisted the Jim Crow system, ultimately joining the interracial Alabama Sharecroppers Union (SCU), organized in the 1930s with the support of the Communist Party. The SCU demanded rights to sell surplus crops and to cultivate gardens, an act often forbidden in order to keep sharecroppers dependent on landowners for food.

When Shaw was 47, he faced down a group of armed white law enforcement…

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The best books for first-person accounts of life in the twentieth century South

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Book cover of To 'Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors After the Civil War

To 'Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors After the Civil War

By Tera W. Hunter

Why this book?

In the postbellum south, black women did the bulk of the laundry. Tera Hunter’s beautiful book tracks washerwomen’s everyday lives at work and at leisure in Atlanta in the late 19th century. Some of the most inspiring sequences analyze a strike in 1881 on the eve of the International Cotton Exposition. Though washerwomen controlled the conditions of their labor much more than many other domestic workers, they received paltry wages for tough work.

Before the exposition, a washerwoman secret society canvassed the city to recruit all washerwomen to join the work stoppage, and in three weeks, three thousand washerwomen…

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The best books on the politics of doing the laundry

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Book cover of Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South

Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South

By Melton A. McLaurin

Why this book?

Separate Pasts is McLaurin’s account of his 1950s boyhood in the tiny hamlet of Wade, North Carolina, years when the Jim Crow system still reigned. He describes the complex, interconnected lives of the town’s white and black families, and his own confusion as he tried to make sense of the contradictions he observed in his world. A painfully honest account of a white boy’s reckoning with the legacies of segregation and oppression, McLaurin reveals how his own relationships with black neighbors undermined the racist beliefs he was taught.
From the list:

The best books for first-person accounts of life in the twentieth century South

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Book cover of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

By Mildred D. Taylor

Why this book?

By the time Mildred Taylor received the Newbery Award for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry in 1977, I had moved on to reading historical fiction for adults. In grad school I studied all of the Newbery winners to learn how to write literary fiction for young readers, and I fell in love with the whole Logan family at first read, especially the nine-year-old narrator, Cassie. Taylor had the exceptional talent of being able to climb inside a child’s mind and take the reader through her lived experience with stunning psychological depth and truth. With heartfelt humanity, Cassie’s narrative puts…

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The best historical fiction for tweens and teens

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Book cover of The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye

By Toni Morrison

Why this book?

This work of historical fiction was Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison’s first novel, published in 1970. I was a newspaper book reviewer at the time, and I read it for my column. I instantly recognized Morrison’s early genius for poetic language and unflinching truth-telling, which blossomed into her mature masterpiece Beloved. The story captivated me, for I ached for the struggles of Pecola Breedlove, an African-American girl struggling not only to grow up but to survive racism during the Depression. Most moving to me were her prayers for blue eyes, underscoring how standards of physical beauty can damage a young…

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The best young adult historical fiction books about growing up in the racially charged Jim Crow South

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