The 1954 "Brown v. Board of Education" ruling was a watershed event in the fight against racial segregation in the United States. The recent fiftieth anniversary of Brown prompted a surge of tributes: books, television and radio specials, conferences, and speeches. At the same time, says James C. Cobb, it revealed a growing trend of dismissiveness and negativity toward "Brown" and other accomplishments of the civil rights movement. Writing as both a lauded historian and a white southerner from the last generation to grow up under southern apartheid, Cobb responds to what he sees as distortions of "Brown"'s legacy and their implied disservice to those whom it inspired and empowered.
Cobb begins by looking at how our historical understanding of segregation has evolved since the "Brown" decision. In particular, he targets the tenacious misconception that racial discrimination was at odds with economic modernization--and so would have faded out, on its own, under market pressures. He then looks at the argument that "Brown" energized white resistance more than it fomented civil rights progress. This position overstates the pace and extent of racial change in the South prior to "Brown," Cobb says, while it understates "Brown"'s role in catalyzing and legitimizing subsequent black protest.
Finally, Cobb suggests that the "Brown" decree and the civil rights movement accomplished not only more than certain critics have acknowledged but also more than the hard statistics of black progress can reveal. The destruction of Jim Crow, with its "denial of belonging," allowed African Americans to embrace their identity as southerners in ways that freed them to explore links between their southernness and their blackness. This is an important and timely reminder of "what the "Brown" court and the activists who took the spirit of its ruling into the streets were up against, both historically and contemporaneously."
An erudite and eminently readable corrective to academia's trendy fad of being 'down on Brown.' Professor Cobb's bracing analysis is impressively persuasive.
--David J. Garrow "author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Bearing the Cross
Should be read by all who study the Civil Rights movement and the twentieth century South. The perspectives that Cobb advances in these essays are sure to stimulate renewed inquiry into our assumptions about the South and the role of race in crafting its history and heritage.
An extremely useful model of interdisciplinary legal history.
--Law and History Review
[A] provocative book that promises not only to recast historical debate over Brown, but also to encourage a broader understanding of southern identity. . . . Cobb's lectures are wonderfully concise and readable. . . . Even the 'naysayers' would concede Cobb's point that despite our inability to live up to the moral implications of the decision, Brown remains a catalytic event that deserves its central place in the history of twentieth-century America
--North Carolina Historical Review
Cobb's ornery but learned Lamar lectures compose a powerful assertion of the centrality of the Brown decision to the South's racial progress in the twentieth century. Those who have said otherwise get taken to the woodshed in this lively little book.
--Robert J. Norrell "author of The House I Live In: Race in the American Century
A useful tonic for those who have grown tired of the down on Brown crowd of historians and other academics whose chorus of despair amounts to a din of negativity. . . . Responds to the criticism over Brown with insight, cleverness, and powerful historical argument . . . For anyone interested in southern historiography, this book offers a look at the thoughts of a leading practitioner and his take on the major themes of southern history. . . . This book is a good brief look at the issue of southern identity, where it came from and where it is headed. . . . Highly recommended, and will certainly leave the reader wanting to explore the subject even more.