cover image Boston Confronts Jim Crow; 1890-1920 Hbk

Boston Confronts Jim Crow; 1890-1920 Hbk

Mark Robert Schneider. Northeastern University Press, $45 (352pp) ISBN 978-1-55553-296-3

The end of the 19th century was a defining moment for the United States. In fact, how its citizens relate to each other today can be traced to the new relationships formed after the Civil War, in what was for all intents and purposes a new country. Schneider, who teaches history at Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass., offers an adept, well-written illumination of this crucial time in an extraordinary city. The battles over school desegregation in the 1970s make it difficult to imagine Boston as it was a century before. It had been home of a small but politically active black population and the center of the radical abolition movement led by Frederick Douglass, the Grimkes, the Garrisons and another prominent abolitionist family whose most famous member, Robert Gould Shaw, would lead the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry. After the defeat of radical Reconstruction, however, their descendants were in an increasingly difficult position. As Southerners turned to lynching, race riots and legal disenfranchisement, Southern blacks migrated north, competing with the new influx of foreign immigrants and the native-born. Congressman Henry Cabot Lodge wrestled with his own political contradictions; he sponsored voting rights and anti-immigration bills. Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois's Niagara Movement (which became the NAACP) just wrestled. Other prominent players examined are Lucy Stone, William Henry Lewis, Oliver Wendell Holmes and the electric John Boyle O'Reilly. The text is engrossing and written in a conversational tone, but it is most impressive for the intelligible way it fits the pieces of the political puzzle together to form a complete, multidimensional picture of Beantown racialists. Illustrations. (May)