The Color of the Law: Race, Violence, and Justice in the Post-World War II Southby Gail Williams O'Brien
On February 25, 1946, African Americans in Columbia, Tennessee, averted the lynching of James Stephenson, a nineteen-year-old, black Navy veteran accused of attacking a white radio repairman at a local department store. That night, after Stephenson was safely out of town, four of Columbia's police officers were shot and wounded when they tried to enter the town's black business district. The next morning, the Tennessee Highway Patrol invaded the district, wrecking establishments and beating men as they arrested them. By day's end, more than one hundred African Americans had been jailed. Two days later, highway patrolmen killed two of the arrestees while they were awaiting release from jail.
Drawing on oral interviews and a rich array of written sources, Gail Williams O'Brien tells the dramatic story of the Columbia "race riot," the national attention it drew, and its surprising legal aftermath. In the process, she illuminates the effects of World War II on race relations and the criminal justice system in the United States. O'Brien argues that the Columbia events are emblematic of a nationwide shift during the 1940s from mob violence against African Americans to increased confrontations between blacks and the police and courts. As such, they reveal the history behind such contemporary conflicts as the Rodney King and O. J. Simpson cases.
Journal of Southern History
[An] exemplary book.
Journal of American History
Well-written, well-researched, and extremely thought-provoking.
American Historical Review
[A] model of careful and courageous scholarship and should be standard reading for students of law and justice .
Law and Politics Book Review
O'Brien's readable and well-researched account of an extraordinary story makes innovative contributions to the growing literature on American violence.
Times Literary Supplement
- The University of North Carolina Press
- Publication date:
- John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture
- Sold by:
- Barnes & Noble
- NOOK Book
- File size:
- 3 MB
What People are Saying About This
A deeply textured book about the so-called race riot provoked by a white mob's attempt to lynch a young black World War II veteran. . . . O'Brien provides a wealth of detail on the incident and the response to it, which itself is a powerful and important story. But she goes far beyond that to provide fascinating insights into the social, economic, and community developments that were beginning to undermine the Jim Crow legal system. O'Brien's determined research. . . . has resulted in a complex, multilayered story.Journal of Southern History
[An] intelligent, illuminating analysis.Southern Historian
The Color of the Law is a historical page-turner. It should quickly earn a secure place as a classic on race relations in the modern South. O'Brien has much to tell us about why the World War II era was a watershed in southern history. She also shines light on the continuing legacy of legal and extralegal racism in contemporary America. Savor this book!W. Fitzhugh Brundage, editor of Under Sentence of Death: Lynching in the South
O'Brien's readable and well-researched account of an extraordinary story makes innovative contributions to the growing literature on American violence.Times Literary Supplement
Well-written, well-researched, and extremely thought-provoking. . . . An important addition to the literature on race relations in the post-World War II South.American Historical Review
An important work that adds depth and context to our knowledge of the American South and America itself. The Color of the Law is a model of careful and courageous scholarship and should be standard reading for students of law and justice in the United States.Law and Politics Book Review
An important addition to the history of the post-war South and the system of justice which became an integral part of the ensuing modern Civil Rights Movement.American Studies
(W. Fitzhugh Brundige, editor of Under Sentence of Death: Lynching in the South)
Meet the Author
Gail Williams O'Brien is professor of history and associate dean for graduate studies, planning, and faculty affairs in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
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