Glenda Gilmore’s text Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950, presents a comprehensive portrait of the various elements that contributed to the later establishment of the Civil Rights Movement…
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Still, it’s clear how these marginalized concerns constitute a comprehensive battle against Jim Crow, and set the fire for later civil rights gains. Within the context of Gilmore’s text, this essay examines the implementation of radical political structures, specifically Communist and Socialist concerns, in the fight against Jim Crow in the early 20th century United States. One of the text’s most powerful elements is the articulation of the overriding social structure in which the Southern Jim Crow laws were en-crouched. In these regards, Gilmore presents a social order wherein Jim Crow laws are not merely the emergence of racial prejudice in a social context, but a systematic social order that functioned to both oppress and psychologically convince African Americans of their inferiority. Indeed, Gilmore states, “Everywhere white Southerners looked, they saw black Southerners behaving according to white supremacy’s dictates, and they took that as an indication of black people’s inferiority.”1 While such pronouncements are powerful in their articulation of the Jim Crow social era, they also function within the context of the text to establish a framework for a social class system that will later be challenged by radical and revolutionary political structures. ...
For instance, while one generally associates the Civil Rights Movement with idealized notions of the American free spirit as established in the Declaration of Independence, Gilmore’s text presents a thematic counterpoint to this characterization. As Gilmore’s text advances one notes the historical parallels it established between the plight of the African American and the widespread oppression that was experienced in 1910s and 1920s Russia. While the text does not go as far as comparing American slavery to the Russian peasant workers, it does indicate that there is a similar notion of institutionalized oppression that necessitated intervention. In these regards, Gilmore states, “Like Jim Crow, this system also had wings. It promised to liberate colonized peoples and demonstrate to poor white Southerners their class solidarity with poor black Southerners.”2 One of the emerging themes within these contexts is the notion of self-determination; this is an element that is witnessed in both the Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Bolshevik Revolution and applied to the plight of oppressed African Americans. Again, this is a significant connection as it deconstructs the Civil Rights Movement as one of American liberty and resituates it in a context where its greatly influenced and mediated by radical political movements that ran counter to the mainstream United States agenda. While Gilmore establishes a major counterpoint to Jim Crowe in the thematic consideration of revolutionary politics, the text also makes significant direct correlation between communist and socialist practices and the plight of the African American. One of the early incarnations of such connections was made a decade after the Bolshevik Revolution, when communists in both the United States and
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