Woodward is an American historian that stressed the fact that there was always unseen motivation in politics. Most of his work is focused around the South and race. Some of his works include Tom Watson, Origins of the New South, The Burden of Southern History, Reunion and Reaction: The Compromise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction, and The Battle of Leyte Gulf: The Incredible Story of World War II’s Largest Naval Battle. Woodward has won many awards for his work including, but not limited to The Pulitzer Prize for History and the Bancroft Prize. Not only has Woodward published 39 books, conducted lectures, and written articles, but he also collaborated with many other people that share his passion for race-related and historical topics in America.
After Woodward received his Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina, he went on to teach at Johns Hopkins University and Yale. Between 1977 and up until his death in 1999, Woodward taught as a History Emeritus at Yale University. Woodward served as part of the historical staff in the U.S. Navy where he wrote many battle reports. The book The Battle of Leyte Gulf: The Incredible Story of World War II’s Largest Naval Battle was the result of his experiences throughout World War II. Although Woodward briefly mentions who revised the sources that were used, the direct sources were never mentioned until the reference section of the book. Even then, the sources used were not properly cited in a bibliography.
The sources were put in a section called “Notes on Reading”. This section was not formatted correctly in order for it to be a bibliography (Woodward 193-196). Throughout the research and development of The Strange Career of Jim Crow, Woodward used, at the time, sources that were both old and modern. Woodward used many books that talked about Civil Rights/ Civil Rights movement, slavery, race, radical black power, etc. Some of the older books he referred to were W.E.B. Dubois’s, The Souls of Black Folk which was published in 1903 and George W. Cable’s, The Negro Question: A Selection of Writings on Civil Rights in the South which was released in 1889. Other historians’ that Woodward referred to were Richard C. Wade and Joel Williamson. They both were historians during Woodward’s time and published books that Woodward used as sources. However, most of the book was based on a series of lectures that Woodward delivered to an unsegregated audience at the University of Virginia in 1954.
Many believed that Woodward was a Revisionist with Liberal leanings, but Woodward also has been described as a Presentist because of the fact that he likes to write from our present point of view. Overall, Woodward did do a good job of opening up the discussion about this topic and getting people to think about the cause, rather than the effect. Throughout The Strange Career of Jim Crow, Woodward discusses topics such as the Jim Crow laws, segregation, the Civil Rights Movement, and integration. In one section of the book “Forgotten Alternatives”, Woodward explains that “policies of proscription, segregation, and disfranchisement that are often described as the immutable ‘folkways’ of the South, impervious alike to legislative reform and armed intervention, are of a more recent origin” (Woodward 65). Woodward wanted people to understand that the Jim Crow laws and segregation were a more recent development in South contrary to popular belief. Woodward discussed the fact that slavery gradually moved to the South after originating in the North (Woodward 17).
Furthermore, Woodward discusses the fact that the aspects of those topics changed over time and are more likely to do so again, for the better. Woodward, being a Southerner himself, was not trying to make excuses for the South or ‘protect the legacy of the South’, but was providing more information in order for people to see the bigger picture. Woodward wanted people to understand the reasoning behind the choices made during the late 1800s and 1900s. While reading, the readers are challenged to think about why and how segregation needed to be codified by the Jim Crow laws. Woodward also makes the readers think about the roots of discrimination and what changed the Civil Rights movement from a peaceful, non-violent protest to one that is more radical and violent. Woodward succeeds in his attempt of discussing and illuminating the social and political forces that were at work during the 1890s, and how the Jim Crow laws and segregation came to be. After reading this book, I have been able to think about how seeing both sides of the story is important to truly understand something. I also believe that it is very hard to cover a topic like this without including some bias. When talking about racism and segregation everyone is going to have their own opinions on whether or not it was good or bad. I feel that Woodward did a very good job of staying unbias throughout the book, leaning more towards talking about both sides of the discussion presented.
Despite having delved deep into the rooted racism within America and explaining the Civil Rights era, I do feel that Woodward could have elaborated and discussed the topic of radicalism or the Black Power movement more in depth. I also feel that Woodward could have talked more about how the Civil Rights movement was affected due to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Overall, Woodward’s attempt to bring to light racial injustice in America with objectivity was an incredibly effective way to further a very important conversation.