The Rise and Decline of Racial Equality in America
*2000 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award Semifinalist*
Philip A. Klinkner
Rogers M. Smith
The University of Chicago Press
Although Americans would like to believe otherwise, our nation's commitment to racial equality has never been consistent, nor has it been irresistibly driven forward by America's founding principles. In The Unsteady March, Philip Klinkner and Rogers Smith disprove the idea that the United States has been on a "steady march" toward the end of racial discrimination. Rather, progress has been made only in brief periods, under special conditions, and it has always been followed by periods of stagnation and retrenchment.
In their sweeping and accessible history of race relations, Klinkner and Smith show that significant advances in racial justice have occurred only when three circumstances have converged: large-scale wars, which require extensive economic and military mobilization of African Americans; an enemy that inspires American leaders to advocate inclusive, egalitarian values in order to justify the war; and domestic political organizations that are able to pressure those leaders to follow through on their rhetoric.
Klinkner and Smith's history clearly demonstrates that substantial progress has not yet occurred without these factors working together, as they did during the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and Cold War eras.
Today we are in a period of retrenchment like those that have followed previous reform eras. With its insights into contemporary racial politics and its wealth of historical material, The Unsteady March is a penetrating and controversial analysis of race relations across two centuries. The fight for racial equality has not been won, the authors argue, nor will it be unless we recognize the true factors behind progress and the extraordinary efforts required to achieve it.
"Civil rights workers sometimes said that for every step toward racial progress, the community would often slide two steps back. This "unsteady march" is documented in this unflinching portrait of the leviathan of American race relations. Klinkner (The Losing Parties) teaches government at Hamilton College and Smith (a Pulitzer finalist for Civic Ideals) teaches race and politics at Yale. They contend that racial progress hinges on three factors: a pending large-scale war, supportive government rhetoric, and strong domestic political organziations or advocacy groups. "The normal experience of the typical black person in U.S. history has been to live in a time of stagnation and decline in progress toward racial equality," they assert. There dense and compelling synthesis of many primary and secondary sources bears out a long history of atrocities and political maneuvering from the time of the Revolution through the Clinton presidency, while highlighting the role of the black press and the moods of various communities. The authors' theories will likely spur debate, yet they offer scholarly confirmation of a notion widely held in the black community for many decades. Acknowledging that the modern civil rights movement has irrevocably transformed this country, Klinkner and Smith conclude by arguing that there are nonetheless "abundant similarities" between our racial and political debates and those of the late 19th century. This important book should be read by all who aspire to create a more perfect union.
Philip Klinkner is associate professor of government and director of the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center at Hamilton College. He is the author of The Losing Parties. Rogers M. Smith is Alfred Cowles Professor of Government and codirector of the ISPS Center for the Study of Race, Inequality, and Politics at Yale University. His book, Civic Ideals was a finalist for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in History.
Introduction: The Unsteady March
One: "Bolted with the Lock of a Hundred Keys": The Era of Slavery, 1619-1860
Two: "Thenceforward, and Forever Free": The Civil War, 1860-1865
Three: "The Negro Has Got as Much as He Ought to Have": Reconstruction and the Second Retreat, 1865-1908
Four: "The Color Line": Jim Crow America, 1908-1938
Five: "Deutschland and Dixieland": Antifascism and the Emergence of Civil Rights, 1938-1941
Six: "Double V: Victory Abroad, Victory at Home": World War II
Seven: "Hearts and Minds": The Cold War and Civil Rights, 1946-1954
Eight: "There Comes a Time": The Civil Rights Revolution, 1954-1968
Nine: "Benign Neglect?": Post-Civil Rights America, 1968-1998
Conclusion: Shall We Overcome?
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