Black Politics in the Age of Jim Crow Memphis, Tennessee, 1865 to 1954 Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Gritter, Elizabeth
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • Because the vast majority of black southerners were disenfranchised, most historians have ignored those who engaged in formal political activities from the late nineteenth century through the 1950s. This study is the first to focus on their efforts during this time. In contrast to narratives of the Jim Crow era that portray southern blacks as having little influence on electoral and party politics, this dissertation reveals that they had a significant impact. Using Memphis as a case study, it explores how black men and women maneuvered for political access and negotiated with white elites, especially with machine boss Edward H. Crump. It focuses in particular on Robert R. Church, Jr., who interacted with Crump, mobilized black Memphians, and emerged as the country's most prominent black Republican in the 1920s. Church and other black Republicans carved out a space for themselves in party politics and opened up doors for blacks in the process. This study argues that formal black political mobilization constituted a major prong of the black freedom struggle during the Jim Crow era in the South. In the face of the segregation, disfranchisement, violence, and economic exploitation in the region, a small but significant number of black southerners used politics to fight these injustices. They secured improved public services and other benefits that improved their living conditions as well as achieved leadership positions that challenged stereotypes of black inferiority. They not only ensured that the Republican Party allowed their political participation and took stands for black civil rights, but they also helped change the Democratic Party from a party that embraced white supremacy to one that pushed for civil rights. This study concludes that the political activities of black southerners ultimately helped end legal segregation and laid the groundwork for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of black voters and black public officials in the South and eventually the election of the nation's first black president.
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  • In Copyright
  • "... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of History."
  • Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd
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  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Open access

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