From the earliest days of Jim Crow, African Americans in New Orleans rallied around the belief that the new system of racially biased laws, designed to relegate them to second-class citizenship, was neither legitimate nor permanent. Drawing on shared memories of fluid race relations and post–Civil War political participation, they remained committed to a disciplined and sustained pursuit of equality. Defying Jim Crow tells the story of this community’s decades-long struggle against segregation, disenfranchisement, and racial violence.
Amid mounting violence and increasing exclusion, black New Orleanians believed their best defense depended upon maintaining a close-knit and politically engaged community. Donald E. DeVore’s peerless research shows how African Americans sought to reverse the trends of oppression by prioritizing the kind of capacity building—investment in education, participation in national organizations, and a spirit of entrepreneurship in markets not dominated by white businessmen—that would ensure the community’s ability to keep fighting for their rights in the face of setbacks and hostility from the city’s white leaders. As some black activists worked to attain equity within the “separate but equal” framework, they provided a firm foundation and crucial support for more overt challenges to the racist government structures.
The result of over a decade’s research into the history of civil rights and community building in New Orleans, Defying Jim Crow provides a thorough and insightful analysis of race relations in one of America’s most diverse cities and offers a vital contribution to the complex history of the African American struggle for freedom.
Donald E. DeVore is an associate professor of history at the University of South Alabama. He is the co-author of Crescent City Schools: Public Education in New Orleans, 1841–1991.
Praise for Defying Jim Crow
“A penetrating look at local actions that allowed the later developments so widely known. . . . Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.”—CHOICE
“In this thorough, thoughtful, and elegantly written book, Donald E. DeVore . . . . offers a successful model for other historians interested in chronicling the longue durée history of social movements. . . . This reviewer gives DeVore’s work a hearty recommendation to anyone who is interested in the long civil rights movement, urban history, or the history of New Orleans.”—American Historical Review
“In his effective study of African-American resistance to Jim Crow, [DeVore] dismantle[es] dichotomies between liberation and accommodation, group and individual, and nation and locality. . . . DeVore’s archival work is prodigious. . . . It should have broad appeal to audiences eager to learn more about activism, the long civil-rights movement, and race in the urban South.”—Journal of Interdisciplinary History
“[A] breathtaking study. . . . Devore’s carefully researched case studies of community resistance introduces readers to a number of overlooked or forgotten champions of racial equality in New Orleans, and serves as a wonderful introduction to the time period.”—Southeastern Librarian