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Title:Between North and South: the politics of race in Jim Crow Memphis
Author(s):Jordan, Jason C
Director of Research:Burgos, Adrian; Roediger, David
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Burgos, Adrian
Doctoral Committee Member(s):McDuffie, Erik; Lang, Clarence; Espiritu, Augusto
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Jim Crow
Racial Politics
African American History
Black Urban History
Abstract:This dissertation, “Between North and South: The Politics of Race in Jim Crow Memphis,” uses the history of Memphis, TN as a case study to argue for the role of place in understanding racial knowledge and politics in U.S. History. Situated near the borders of the Mason-Dixon Line, I argue that Memphis should be considered neither a Southern nor a Northern American city, but a borderland locality. As such, the rules of racial hierarchy that served as the backbone of Jim Crow apartheid operated differently than in Deep South or Northern cities. Between 1910 and 1954, the Memphis city government was led by one of the most corrupt and racially oppressive political machines in American history, headed by notorious political boss E.H. Crump. What makes this story unusual however is that the machine was kept in power not only through the typical tactics of political patronage, the spoils system, intimidation and violence, but also through the explicit support of middle-class black community leaders. My dissertation examines key moments in the history of this strange alliance and unearths a surprising story that positions Memphis as a city that destabilizes conventional wisdom about the nature of what it has meant to be seen as “Northern” or “Southern” in American history. I argue that Memphis’ location has historically made it a hub or “gateway” city. This has allowed Memphis to be an important place not just for the importation and exportation of goods, but racial knowledge as well. My work emphasizes how factors such as geography and migration made Jim Crow Era Memphis into a city of syncretic racial politics. As a border city, Memphis was a place where the overt racism of the Deep South joined with the “polite racism” of North. For example, it was a place where black and white political interests could unite to run the Ku Klux Klan out of town. However, it was also a city where black political opposition to white supremacy provoked swift and aggressive retaliation from the city government and police. Memphis was a place where the government promoted black achievement and individuality under the banner of Progressivism. And yet, black labor leader A. Phillip Randolph was barred from setting foot within Memphis under the threat of arrest or worse. By highlighting such contradictions, my dissertation contributes to recent efforts in Black Urban History and Black Freedom Studies to assess the role of spatiality in American history. Ultimately, I argue that place is a powerful enough factor to shape both the discrete and large-scale structures of racial hierarchies in America.
Issue Date:2015-08-13
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 Jason Jordan
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-03-02
Date Deposited:2015-12

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