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Miles to Go for Freedom: Segregation and…

Miles to Go for Freedom: Segregation and Civil Rights in the Jim Crow…

by Linda Barrett Osborne

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Richie’s Picks: MILES TO GO FOR FREEDOM: SEGREGATION & CIVIL RIGHTS IN THE JIM CROW YEARS by Linda Barrett Osborne, Abrams/Library of Congress, 128p., ISBN: 978-1-4197-0020-0

“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 Americans.

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.

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com/
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/middle_school_lit/
http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/people/faculty/partingtonr/partingtonr.php ( )
  richiespicks | Sep 18, 2012 |
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Told through first-person accounts, photographs, and other primary sources, this book is an overview of racial segregation and early civil rights efforts in the United States from the 1890s to 1954, a period known as the Jim Crow years. Multiple perspectives are examined as the book looks at the impact of legal segregation and discrimination on the day-to-day life of black and white Americans across the country.… (more)

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