Central Question: How did segregation shape daily life for generations of African Americans and how do its legacies remain with us today?


Print, For the Sunny South. An Airship. . . , 1913, Library of Congress

Segregation contradicts what most students have learned about American freedom and democracy. Textbooks discuss de jure [in law] segregation as a great inconvenience that began in the 1890s and soon spread to every aspect of Southern daily life. Most routinely ignore:

  • segregation's economic dimensions and long-term impact;
  • black community activism;
  • interracial efforts to contest the status quo; and
  • the violence and terrorism necessary to uphold it.

Textbooks that portray segregation as a prelude to a more celebratory narrative of the civil rights era collapse the history of earlier generations of African Americans into a monolithic victimhood.

While the South's vicious de jure system stands apart, the rest of the nation's reliance on both informal custom and formal policy means that segregation—as well as the white supremacy and federal complicity that sustained it—cannot be dismissed as a regional aberration in an otherwise democratic nation.

Read the full essay and explore the sources. »