The Color of the Law: Race, Violence, and Justice in the Post-World War II South

The Color of the Law: Race, Violence, and Justice in the Post-World War II South

by Gail Williams O'Brien
     
 

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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…  See more details below

Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Southern race relations in the years immediately following World War II and their implications for the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s have recently attracted more attention from popular and academic writers. Historian OBrien (North Carolina State Univ.) examines an averted 1946 lynching and its aftermath in the small community of Columbia, TN. Among the significant contributions of her work is the light it sheds on the connections between the events of 1946 and the communitys race relations in earlier decades; she also discusses the leadership that middle-class African Americans provided for others in Columbias black community during this crisis. The value of the book is only slightly reduced by OBriens predilection for expressing conclusions with a higher degree of certitude than the evidence appears to warrant. For history and Civil Rights collections in academic libraries.Thomas H. Ferrell, Univ. of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette
From the Publisher
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.

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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807882306
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
02/01/2011
Series:
John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
File size:
3 MB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
O'Brien has combed the resulting court records, ransacked archives across the country, and interviewed dozens of people to reconstruct what happened in that particular time and place. . . . [An] exemplary book.—Journal of American History

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. Brundige
A historical page—turner. It should quickly earn a secure place as a classic on race relations in the modern South.
—(W. Fitzhugh Brundige, editor of Under Sentence of Death: Lynching in the South)

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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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