Episode 1, Season 4
This season, we’re examining the century between the Civil War and the modern civil rights movement to understand how systemic racism and slavery persisted and evolved after emancipation—and how Black Americans still developed strong institutions during this time. Co-hosts Hasan Kwame Jeffries and Bethany Jay discuss how students need to grasp this history to understand injustices many of them face today, from voter suppression to mass incarceration.
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- Learning for Justice: Article, Students Say Teach the Truth
- Learning for Justice: Article, How Culturally Responsive Lessons Teach Critical Thinking
- Learning for Justice: Lesson, Jim Crow as a Form of Racialized Social Control (grades 9-12)
- Learning for Justice: Student text, Jim Crow is Watching (grades 9-12)
[NEWS CLIP: Critical race theory. The mere phrase sparks debate, even outrage across the country.]
[NEWS CLIP: A controversial bill could change the way your child learns about race relations in the classroom.]
[NEWS CLIP: Although it's known as the "Critical Race Theory Bill," that term isn't in the legislation itself.]
[NEWS CLIP: Debate over its potential role in school curricula has set off a firestorm that has roiled school districts and state legislatures nationwide.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: This board allowed an age-inappropriate social agenda-driven curriculum into our elementary classrooms.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: Parents, beware of terms like "social justice," "diversity," "equity," "inclusion." Those inherently good things are being used to disguise a biased political agenda.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: It is not your job to force these ideas onto my child. Your job is to teach my child math, language arts, science and history, including American history.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: [taps microphone] Let's just keep it civil.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: In the third grade, in the CMS Elementary School, my child went on a field trip to Latta Plantation. When she got home and I asked what she learned on the plantation, she told me about farm animals and farming. I asked if she'd learned about slavery and she looked at me puzzled and said, "No." When I followed up with her teacher, she said that slavery was not covered in third grade standards for history, North Carolina agriculture was. Taking any child, regardless of their race to a plantation in North Carolina and not talking about slavery is exactly what those against historical accuracy want to happen.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: This is American history. All of it should be taught in a certain context, and also age-appropriate.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: Critical race theory is not in our schools and it never was, and the people here to complain about it did not know what it was six months ago and had never heard of it. That's why they're going after "diversity," "equity" and "inclusion" instead, and trying to pretend they're the same thing. They aren't.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: Fear has no place in education!]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: Currently, there are five states who now have already banned and another almost a dozen states that are considering banning the teaching of critical race theory.]
[NEWS CLIP: It would dramatically limit how teachers next year could draw links between America's past and present.]
[NEWS CLIP: ... this legislation is aimed at teaching racial harmony, but critics across our area say it will whitewash history in the classroom.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: It will limit what public school students can be taught about things such as white privilege or racial equity.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: As of July 1, teachers won't be able to teach that the United States or the state of Iowa is fundamentally or systemically racist. They're also barred from race scapegoating and race stereotyping, and from creating discomfort or guilt because of one's race.]
Bethany Jay: [sighs] These times are tough—especially for educators.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: When are they not?
Bethany Jay: Right? Not only is this global pandemic still raging, now legislators, parents and educators are debating whether or not to teach about race and racism.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: To say nothing about the attempted coup on January 6.
Bethany Jay: It feels like things haven’t changed much in the wake of last year's "racial reckoning."
[NEWS CLIP: We keep hearing the drumbeat of, "Where is the evidence?" Right here, Sean. 234 pages of sworn affidavits. These are…]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: We looked at cases of mail ballot fraud, assistance fraud and illegal voting prosecuted by the state of Texas over the last 17 years. Voter fraud offenses that were prosecuted represent a small fraction of the votes cast since 2004.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: It's not to say that election fraud doesn't exist—it does. But it's on a scale that is so small in comparison to what is being reported.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: If you include cases that are still pending, it's still less than one percent.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: It just doesn't make any sense.]
[NEWS CLIP: Meanwhile, President Trump continues to pound the table on alleged voter fraud, but just moments ago Trump's attorney general ...]
[NEWS CLIP: Attorney General William Barr says the Justice Department has not found evidence to support allegations of widespread fraud that could change the results of the presidential election.]
[NEWS CLIP: Republican lawmakers have continued to push the message on social media, again without any evidence to support it.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: For more than a decade, a growing number of Americans have become less confident that their votes were accurately cast and counted.]
[NEWS CLIP: The state of Georgia has just overnight passed a new law that really attacks a key tenet of American democracy.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: By March 24, lawmakers had introduced 361 restrictive election bills in 47 statehouses.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: A lot of the components of this law that have been focused on are those that would restrict ballot access in some ways, specifically for a disproportionate number of voters of color and low-income voters here in the state of Georgia.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: ... in the Texas state legislature are rapidly advancing some of the most restrictive voting laws that we have seen in our Republic since the Voting Rights Act was passed in the 1960s.]
Bethany Jay: Hasan, if our students are going to understand the current moment, we have to examine the history of post-emancipation America. To understand the wave of voter suppression laws sweeping across the country, we have to study the history of voter suppression during the Jim Crow Era.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And as you know Bethany, it's even more than that. We also have to understand that segregation is still inscribed in our landscape, and is rooted in this history of post-emancipation America. We have to look at how where we live and how we interact evolved over time.
Bethany Jay: Exactly. Housing inequality in the United States didn’t just happen naturally. And it wasn’t born during slavery. The laws and structures we see today come after emancipation.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Mass incarceration, police violence, these mechanisms to control and disenfranchise African Americans all date back to the Jim Crow era.
[NEWS CLIP: The breach on federal grounds has many people comparing what happened yesterday to the protests and marches that we've seen over the summer.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: I knew those were people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break a law and so I wasn't concerned.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: I told them to just leave the Capitol and in response, they yelled, "No, man. This is our house!"]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: Had the tables been turned and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: Many, many known organizations with ties to white supremacy.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP: Would this attack have happened? Would it have been allowed to happen if those who stormed the Capitol were there to stand up—stand up for Black lives rather than fight for white supremacy?]
Bethany Jay: So many people were shocked by the insurrection on January 6, but the use of political violence to shore up white supremacy is also a part of this history. We have to give our students a basis for understanding that history, and even the history of how we understand race in the United States.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Despite the obstacles we've been talking about, we also see the Black community rise during this period. They establish scores of HBCUs, which still play a major role in higher education. They develop thriving black business districts in Chicago, Durham, Atlanta and Tulsa. And they create amazing new music and literary traditions. Which is why we need to talk about the oppression—and the resilience.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I'm Hasan Kwame Jeffries.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: This season, we're offering a detailed look at how to teach the history of Jim Crow America. In each episode, we'll explore a different topic, walking you through historical concepts, raising questions for discussion, suggesting useful source material and offering practical classroom exercises.
Bethany Jay: In the coming episodes, we're going to shine a spotlight on the era of Jim Crow, starting with the period directly following the Civil War—Reconstruction, and it's eventual failure. Did I say "failure?" That's the old story! What we're talking about is the intentional undoing of Reconstruction.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Precisely. So let's begin.
Bethany Jay: Well, it's been a year, Hasan, and a lot of this year has probably felt very heavy and hard for both of us and those who are listening to us. But there is good news—recent good news, in fact. And one of the sort of recent pieces of good news is the fact that Juneteenth is now a national holiday. Did you celebrate Juneteenth, Hasan? And what are your thoughts on it being an official holiday now?
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I did indeed celebrate Juneteenth. And I know there were Black folk who were like, "Look, we didn't ask for a holiday. We asked for reparations." And they didn't get it. But it is still important. It is a modest measure in the move towards full equality, but it is an important one. It is meaningful because it creates these opportunities for conversation about emancipation, about slavery, which we just have not done at an official national level. So Juneteenth? Certainly worth celebrating, modest but meaningful. And that also wasn't the only good news that we saw most recently. We've seen some Confederate monuments come down in some really important places.
Bethany Jay: Right? On July 10, after a years-long legal battle and, of course, that deadly Unite the Right Rally in 2017, finally, the Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson statues came down in Charlottesville. Those statues, as you know, were part of a whole cultural offensive to propagate a lost cause, myth of the civil war and create a sort of cultural foundation for white supremacy and segregation. And the fact that they're no longer standing is certainly a move in the right direction. So that is indeed good news.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: But this wouldn't be America if we did not balance the good news with some sobering news. You know, we've been dealing with, in 2020, a wave of voter suppression laws. And this wave of voter suppression laws, I mean, we're talking about in the hundreds that are emanating from various state legislatures around the country, you know, also come out of a context: the resurgence of white supremacy in the last four years under the Donald Trump administration, the reaction and response to the Big Lie.
Bethany Jay: Mm-hmm.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: That somehow his loss in the November 2020 election was a result of African Americans and people of color in particular casting fraudulent and illegal ballots, and therefore, it is necessary to pass more stringent laws to protect the access to the ballot. I mean, these are clearly undemocratic measures designed to suppress the vote. And that comes out of a long tradition rooted in the Jim Crow era of disenfranchisement coming out of Reconstruction. And, you know, to a certain extent, that wasn't a surprise, knowing a little history that this would be the response. But I'll tell you what, Bethany, what did come as a surprise to me was the vehemence with which we have seen this anti-Critical Race Theory hysteria.
Bethany Jay: [laughs]
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And it's tied to the voter suppression stuff. I mean, it's emanating from elected officials and politicians. But boy, you talk about people losing their mind?
Bethany Jay: Right. And of course, the Republican-led state legislatures, some of whom were put there because of voter suppression laws, are what makes these anti-critical race theory laws possible. And others have said this, but we can say it again, that what's actually being taught in American middle and high school and elementary schools is not actually critical race theory. But more than 25 Republican-led states have passed these kinds of laws, which really limit the kind of content that can be taught in the classrooms, or even the kind of trainings that teachers and other state employees can go through, sorts of anti-bias trainings.
Bethany Jay: And the language in those laws is really vague. They just say you can't teach content that's divisive, you know? So when we're talking about divisive concepts, you know, what we're really talking about is a narrative that doesn't focus almost exclusively on white actors and a celebration of American history. You know, the narrative of perpetual progress or the narrative of perpetual racial progress, as I've heard you refer to it before, and the focus on sort of great white men, right? With maybe Frederick Douglass and Pocahontas and Susan B. Anthony thrown in for good measure. And of course, I'm being a bit facetious there, but that also gets us to this idea that we'll be diving into later in the season, that whiteness, that the white experience of history in this case is the norm against which all else deviates.
Bethany Jay: But the idea is that the old way of doing things is somehow not divisive. That the African American, Latinx, LGBTQ and female students in our classroom don't feel excluded by a narrative of American history that divides them, their struggles and their achievements out of the story. There's decades of studies that tell us sort of what kind of harm that does to students when they don't see themselves represented in their classrooms and the stories that are being told. You know, so the idea that, well, this is the happy history, well, it's really not for everybody, right? It's the happy history if we're really just taking one perspective.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And it ain't true, right? I mean, the version of the past that people expect us to teach if we adhere to the rules and regulations of these "anti-divisive," quote-unquote, anti-critical race theory that's included in this legislation is a version of the past that just isn't true. And that goes against everything that we are supposed to be doing as teachers. And you're asking teachers to do the one thing that they are sworn or committed not to doing, right? And that's not lying to their students either by omitting or by outright, outright lying.
Bethany Jay: Right. And we need to understand all of that history if we're going to engage in the work that needs to happen still today. And that work is all around us. We can see it, right? Just opening a newspaper. I guess nobody opens a newspaper. Clicking on a ...
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: [laughs] Clicking on a link.
Bethany Jay: Clicking on an article. Yeah. [laughs]
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And I think that speaks to the political purpose of these efforts, because if you don't teach students about how we got here, if we're not honest with our students about the past, if we don't confront hard history directly, then what you wind up doing is just reinforcing and supporting the status quo. And so those who want to maintain the status quo—which perpetuates inequality—are totally fine and are fully on board and are pushing forward this effort to make sure that we don't look critically at our history, at our present, so that we do not change anything. But, you know, I think, Bethany, that brings us to why we are doing season four of Teaching Hard History on the Jim Crow era.
Bethany Jay: Mm-hmm.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: When you think about the Jim Crow era and why it's important to have teachers thinking about how to teach, and learning some new content, why do you think that it’s important to disrupting these efforts to create silences around the American past and the problems that we face today?
Bethany Jay: So much of the season is about denaturalizing—if that makes sense—the moment that we're in. Really asking ourselves why is the wealth gap between white and Black families so large? You know, why have Black Americans been some of the hardest hit by COVID? Why are Black maternal death rates so much higher than white? Why are prisons disproportionately populated by people of color? Why does the government so often represent the will of the minority? When we ask those questions instead of just saying, "Well, it is what it is," instead of just, "Oh, politicians are corrupt," or whatever the sort of dismissive answers might be, we see that so much of the moment that we are in was consciously created or upheld or cultivated during the period that we're going to talk about this season. And that, for me, is part of what makes this season so particularly exciting. How about you?
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: It's the same, right? You know, we tend to, in the classroom particularly, when it centers around the Black experience, but even when it centers around just the expansion of democracy in America, we'll go American Revolution, Civil War, civil rights, present. Right? It's like, "All right. Now how did that happen?" You can't just jump from Frederick Douglass to Martin Luther King. And so there's a century of critical history that we have to teach in order for all of the other pieces to make sense. I agree fully with you that when we're thinking about the problems that you enumerated, the inequalities that still persist, you cannot make sense of them unless you know and understand the history between emancipation and the height of the civil rights era, the long history of racial terror, disenfranchisement. In the absence of learning about that, when students begin to think about how inequality persists—or why it persists—then their default explanation will be this thing called race.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Not because of redlining, right? That Black folk are concentrated in these communities that are under-resourced, but because Black people don't know how to save and can't get out of these communities that are under-resourced. And so it's critically important that students understand how these problems came about in the post-Emancipation era—the legacy of slavery and this new thing called Jim Crow—so that they can accurately make sense of what they're seeing today. And so that they don't default back to these stereotypes about race, because it still has this really strong explanatory pull, a default for those who are unable to see the way systems and structures in American society continue to work.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: We should be clear probably about what we mean by Jim Crow. It has a very specific origin coming out of the minstrel tradition of white people in blackface and even Black actors in blackface because it was the only work they could do, engaged in the caricaturing of Black people, enslaved folk. But Jim Crow was much more than segregated water fountains or minstrel shows.
Bethany Jay: Yeah, in curriculum, or in even the way that we sort of represent this period in popular culture and other things, you know, what we see are the white and Black water fountains. You know, that stands for this entire, as you say, sort of 100-year period. And the idea that Jim Crow is just separation, that somehow it's just segregation is so incomplete.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: So let me ask you, Bethany, when you think of Jim Crow, what sort of comes to mind in terms of definition?
Bethany Jay: You know, the first word that comes to mind when I think about Jim Crow is the word "systems." It is a variety of systems: political, legal, economic, social, that, in the absence of slavery was able to reinforce white supremacy when whiteness didn't immediately evoke freedom and power, and blackness wasn't immediately slavery and the lack of power. These systems governed everything from who can vote to how you might walk on the sidewalk, even geographically positioning people, you know, and limiting the options available to the African-American community in as many ways as possible. We have to understand that because we're still operating in the world that that created in so many ways. I often say to my students who are going to be teachers, "Look around your districts. Look around your classrooms. The makeup of your classrooms is not an accident. It's the product of all sorts of policies and legislation that determined where people could be and couldn't be—or what opportunities were available to different groups of people – for the past 100 years-plus."
Bethany Jay: To help you take advantage of what you learn here, we prepare detailed show notes for each episode, including a list of relevant resources—like how to teach about the Tulsa Race Massacre. There's also a complete transcript, with links to the materials mentioned by our guests. You can find them at LearningForJustice.org/podcasts.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: You know, I think it's important to see Jim Crow as a legacy of the institution of slavery, which I think we stop talking about too soon, right? We hit the Civil War, and then we're like, "Okay, slavery is over. Now let's fast forward to something else," without thinking about its legacy, right? I mean, the principal legacy, in my opinion, of the institution of slavery is white supremacy, and that does not disappear. And so when I think of Jim Crow, I think of exactly those systems that you talked about, that immediately there's this effort to put in place new systems that could recreate the basic labor and social relationships between Black people and white people that undergirded the institution of slavery. Yes, it's legally abolished, but what drove it in the first place does not suddenly dissipate from the minds of white Southerners, and is still in the minds of white Northerners. What we're doing this season is not narrowly confining Jim Crow to one particular region—we're talking about Jim Crow America!
Bethany Jay: Mm-hmm. When we were thinking about Jim Crow America—as opposed to just the Jim Crow South—it is in some ways a reaction to another of our myths that we perpetuate, that the North is the good guys, right? That we are anti-slavery, that slavery either never happened or was not important to the North, that the North fought the Civil War specifically as abolitionists to end slavery, that the North is an egalitarian mecca. You know, laws in Northern states are prohibiting the immigration of free Black people from other states, right? Warning out laws, you know, laws that prohibit Black people from holding certain jobs in Northern cities. And so as we think about what Jim Crow is, we have to think about it nationally or we're just reinforcing another one of those myths, that Jim Crow doesn't happen everywhere, that it's Georgia and Alabama and Mississippi, right? It's the sort of usual suspects.
Bethany Jay: And that's as incomplete and as damaging as any other kind of version of history that we might tell ourselves. So if we think about the chronology and sort of the broad outline of how we're thinking about Jim Crow, we're really beginning in this immediate post-Emancipation period during and right at the end of the Civil War, 1870s or so, where we're going to look both at those Reconstruction Amendments: 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, and their sort of purpose and how they impacted that Reconstruction period. But then also looking at how, as we get into the 1870s, we really see this undoing, this conscious undoing of a lot of the promise of Emancipation, and the limiting of opportunities for the newly-freed population through things like racial violence, through restrictive laws. And then as we move into the later part of the 1870s to the post-World War I period, really thinking about the hardening of those sort of lines between Black and white. The heyday of lynching, for example, and the constant threat of violence that is held over the Black community. The crafting and expanding of legal segregation in state legislatures all throughout the American South and beyond. And, of course, the sort of restrictive labor practices, trying to still sort of enforce the conditions of slavery, the economic sort of conditions and the labor of slavery absent the system of slavery. And it's at this point—we can't forget our monuments—that we are also looking at the Daughters of the Confederacy building the foundation for a continued loyalty to the lost cause and the racial relationships that it will engender as we move through the period. Hasan, can I throw it over to you for the post-World War I period and beyond?
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Yes, certainly. I think when we think about the post-World War I period in 1918, 1919, the returning of African-American soldiers, the Red Summer, I mean, this is really sort of Jim Crow maturing, as you have these efforts to reinforce inequality and segregation and white supremacy. And so we see it being represented and strengthened and enforced not only in the streets of America as Black blood begins to flow, but then also in media, in Hollywood as it matures. But at the same time, this is a period where the African-American response to Jim Crow is also maturing, the cultural flourishing of the Harlem Renaissance. This is the period when Marcus Garvey's UNIA has over a million members. The NAACP is really finding its footing in the 1920s and into the early 1930s. So there's this period where Jim Crow really begins to mature. But then you have the major disruption of the Great Depression and The New Deal.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Now often we think about the New Deal as this ultimate progressive form of legislative agenda. But in many ways, we see the New Deal and the responses to the Depression strengthening Jim Crow. And so this period from the 1930s through World War II, on the one hand can be looked at as a period of Jim Crow's entrenchment, the way it gets embedded in what would become modern systems and structures, modern political and economic systems and structures. But this is also the beginning in this period, coming out of the New Deal into World War II, of Jim Crow's demise. The crumbling. We see the crumbling of Jim Crow during this period. But it's also the movement to bring Jim Crow to its knees. So the crumbling isn't just because, you know, it rained too hard one day. It's because there's an earthquake.
Bethany Jay: Mm-hmm.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And that earthquake is Black folk organizing to end Jim Crow. And certainly we also have to think about the legacy of Jim Crow in its various configurations, from the rise of the carceral state, for example, to the voter suppression legislation that has been sweeping the nation.
Bethany Jay: My hope as we go through this season is that we'll give teachers both a sort of chronological framework to understand this Jim Crow America, but also a thematic framework to understand it. And we've sort of been talking about our themes kind of organically, but it probably makes sense to kind of list just exactly what they are. I mean, in addition to sort of moving through very specific chronology of Jim Crow, very specific sort of periodization, we're also going to be talking about themes like: law and politics, violence and control, the structures of white supremacy, protest and resistance and building Black institutions.
Bethany Jay: So as we think about law and politics, we'll give teachers ways to understand what we're calling Reconstruction 101. Those sort of government and legal aspects of Reconstruction. But then we're also going to return to those ideas of law and politics, as we think about the New Deal, as we think about mass incarceration. Same thing with violence and control, right? We will think about lynching and the heyday of lynching in the early part of the 20th century. But that theme of the threat of violence will continue through our discussions of a variety of different topics, including Black participation in the world wars, and the response to Black veterans when they return home.
Bethany Jay: Probably one of the hardest themes that we're going to talk about for teachers to bring into their classroom is that idea of the structures of white supremacy. And for that theme, we both have a lot of content about that, content about the lost cause, content about medical racism and the ways that Black women in particular are treated during this era. We also have two episodes about teaching these topics. Both teaching approaches to race in general, and then also sort of how to create a classroom environment and how to plan your lessons to allow for students to really engage in these difficult discussions of the creation and perpetuation of white supremacy throughout this period. And of course, white supremacy doesn't happen without protest. It doesn't happen without resistance from the Black community. And that's our next theme that we're going to deal with. And this is probably one of my favorite themes that we're going to talk about, really thinking about building Black America, right? HBCUs and Black banking, for example. The Harlem Renaissance, and also sort of Black nationalism and Black political thought.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: So one of the themes that we're going to explore is politics. You want to say a little bit about what we're going to focus on in terms of that as a theme within this season?
Bethany Jay: Sure. I mean, really, there's such a perfect parallel between then and now. If we look at disenfranchisement tactics during the immediate post-Reconstruction, the end of Reconstruction period and now, what we're seeing is laws that are seemingly written in a colorblind way, but are going to have a disproportionate impact or be disproportionately enforced on certain populations. And whether it is a grandfather clause or a poll tax or a literacy test in the 19th century, or restricted mail-in voting, voter ID laws, restricted polling places in the 21st century. And add on top of that the gerrymandering of districts across the South that splits African-American votes, the impact is to make it harder, if not impossible, for African-American people to vote. You know, when we ask that question of "Why in so many places are state legislatures or even our federal government seeming to represent the will of the minority?" It's because the system is rigged. And the same way the system was rigged when the quote-unquote "Redeemers" came in in 1876, the system is rigged for today. I'm sure you have stuff to add to that analysis. [laughs]
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: No, I mean, it's spot on. It's one of the things that we have to talk about, that we cannot understand the efforts to suppress the vote today without putting it in the broader context and the longer history of efforts to disenfranchise—to literally take the vote away from—African Americans. And then once it's impossible to take the vote away from the whole group, then to make it harder for smaller numbers within the group to vote. As you were saying, these things, in the absence of explicit mentions of race, are not racially neutral. Colorblind in their language, but not colorblind in their effect.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And, you know, the same thing with another one of the themes that we're going to be talking about throughout: criminalization, and the ways in which African Americans coming out of the institution of slavery as a race become criminalized. And so drawing that throughline from convict leasing to mass incarceration in the present. One does not necessarily lead to the other, but you cannot understand one without understanding the other. And I think that the connective tissue in there is the conscious efforts to criminalize African Americans. And this isn't just a Southern thing. And we're going to have a whole episode when we look at the ways in which African Americans are criminalized around the turn of the century, aided and abetted and led in many ways by the great academic thinkers out of the North. And so, again, Jim Crow America.
Bethany Jay: Well, and I'm thinking as you're talking about criminalization, that part of what makes criminalization possible are representations of Black men in particular in popular culture, media. The African-American community is painted as violent aggressors as a way to justify mass incarceration. And that makes me think of another theme that we're going to be dealing with is this theme of violence. Violence is one of the ways, of course, that that voter suppression happens in the Reconstruction era, and violence is used as a control for the African-American community with lynching. And between 1880 and 1930, there's over 3,000 African Americans who are lynched in the South. And we'll be talking about Red Summer and 1919, and part of what happens in those white riots where African-American people are defending themselves, is that the media paints the African-American community as aggressors, as violent, as criminals. So this intense threat of violence hangs over the the Black community, but then also when provoked and made to defend itself, the Black community being painted as the violent aggressors.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And you mentioned those horrendous lynching stats: between 1880 and 1930, 3,000 African Americans who are publicly murdered. You know, between 2010 and 2020, 3,000 African Americans die at the hands of the police.
Bethany Jay: Mm-hmm. And they are again being painted as the violent aggressors, right?
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Exactly.
Bethany Jay: The men who are the victims of that.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Yeah. And the flip side of that, we'll explore, too. Because we're going to talk about white supremacy. We're going to talk about whiteness, and how that plays out in our general perceptions of society. So when we think about criminality foisted on Black folk, a lot of it has to do with threat perception. The perception that is created, intentionally and purposefully created, that Black people are dangerous. And the flip side of that coin is that white people are not. And so you can have the January 6 insurrection, where you have armed white folk marching on the nation's capital. And, you know, police are like, "Oh, I guess it'll be okay." Like, are you serious? Now you know you can't imagine Black folk or folk marching—not even Black folk, you could have white folk coming in support of a Black issue. And the issue itself is considered threatening and dangerous.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And you had the state senator out of Wisconsin and, you know, he said the quiet part out loud. He was like, "Well, they weren't Black Lives Matter, so I had nothing to worry about." Right? He was like, "If they were, then maybe I'd be concerned." And what was he saying? He was like, you know, "We don't have that same threat perception from white folk." So the question then becomes: why are Black folk perceived as being so dangerous, and why are white folk not? Even in situations and circumstances where they clearly intend to be dangerous?
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And that speaks to one of the themes that we're going to be exploring, and that is the making of whiteness. And what does it mean? Because it's flexible during the era of Jim Crow. So we can't understand these current notions of whiteness, and how they speak to an issue like threat perception, without looking closely at it during the Jim Crow era.
Bethany Jay: The other piece to me that has been so important—and I'd like to get your thoughts on this—is really thinking about Jim Crow not only as oppression, but as a period that despite all of these systems saw art and culture and institutions, and these incredible sort of communities of African-American people that flourished within it. And that was the other piece that, you know, when we were thinking about this season and that we were really intent on. And I think that's important too.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Yeah, you have to balance—when talking about the African-American experience, the Black experience, you have to balance the pain and the suffering with the survival, with the joy and with the love. Because it's all there, sort of wrapped up in one combustible mix. If you take African Americans seriously as political actors, if you take them seriously as human beings, then we have to recognize their agency. That even in the midst of degradation and attempts to rob Black folk of their humanity, they find ways to cling to it, they find ways to create family and build bonds and build community. And they find ways to make the most out of these terrible and terribly difficult situations. And focusing on that doesn't mean that we ignore the difficulties and the challenges that Black folk face, because then you've fallen into that happy history that doesn't do anybody any good, right?
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: It's actually saying, "Look, man. These are the circumstances. This is what Black folk were dealing with. But look here, as a result of the determination of Black folk to build, to survive, to thrive, look at what they're able to create." And the same thing can be said of any era of the Black experience. You know, in slavery it's the same thing. You can go back to the Middle Passage, right? Yeah, that's a story of horror, but then when you think about the ways in which African folk shackled together, stolen from their homes, are able to survive and create community on the other side of the Atlantic, I mean, that's also a story of triumph in a way. And this is a continuation of that story.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And then also looking at the organizing, right? We just did a season on civil rights, but that doesn't begin in 1954 with the Brown decision. It has these deep roots. So exploring some of these deep roots in this earlier period, talking about Black nationalism and of Marcus Garvey, and then how that will inform the politics of not just of Malcolm X, but also what Dr. King and so many others is going to be one of the things that I'm really looking forward to exploring.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Learning for Justice has a special opportunity just for educators. After listening to this episode, you can earn a certificate for one hour of professional development. All you have to do is go to LearningForJustice.org/PodcastPD—PD for "Professional development." That's podcastPD—all one word. Then enter the unique code word for this episode: reconstruction—all lowercase. You'll also find a link in the show notes. It's a great way to get even more out of Teaching Hard History.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Just as we plan on exploring the making and the unmaking and the expansion and sometimes the contraction of this thing called whiteness, we’re going to spend some time talking about Blackness and the African-American community. You know, one of the things you had talked about that I talk about a lot is disrupting the myth of perpetual racial progress, because there are moments during this century, during this Jim Crow era, where real gains are made, because people are putting in the work and the efforts. But there are also times—and probably far more—where they're working just as hard, they're struggling just as hard, and they are losing ground.
Bethany Jay: Tulsa encapsulates that, right? Where you have Black Wall Street, and then the massacre. And this narrative of great progress and great success, and how that is undone in just a night or two.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And then as a result of that, you know, Black folk have to try to build again. And as they're building again in the Greenwood district, fast forward to the post-New Deal era and you hit the 1950s, and the next thing you know, that community that was clinging by a thread was able to rebuild at least some of its infrastructure, gets an interstate planned and plotted right through it.
Bethany Jay: Yeah.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And so how does this sort of history of purposeful destruction of Black communities play out? And how are Black folk able to respond? Because Greenwood is still there. These other communities are still there—not necessarily in the best shape, but still hanging on. And that's critically important to understand coming out of the era of Jim Crow.
Bethany Jay: As you talk about Tulsa, it makes me think of there are so many people who said to me after President Biden's speech and the larger media attention to the anniversary who said, "I had no idea that happened." As I've worked with teachers, as I've looked at a bunch of different state curriculum over the years of my work as a history educator, much of this story isn't in the vast majority of curriculum. And so part of what we hope to do this season is give teachers those cues about how we can talk about this within what we need to teach? If we're going to talk about World War I and the home front and the impact of World War I, then to me, it makes sense. Let's talk about 1919 in that context, and returning World War I African-American soldiers. And how they are treated when they try to expand the democratic institutions at home. You know, just giving teachers those cues. Here's the stuff that's there, and here's how you can include this story in it.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Yeah, and I think that is going to be one of the important takeaways for those who are teachers who are listening. That you don't have to create an entirely new curriculum. You don't have to teach two different curriculums, right? That which is required by states and schools and districts, and then this other thing over here. It's like, no, you can take what's already there, just as you were saying, whether it was World War I and then infusing Red Summer, or you're dealing with the New Deal, and talking about the ways in which it reinforced inequality when we think about the Home Owners Loan Corporation and the like, and creating redlining and all this other stuff. So one of our challenges to ourselves is to say, "Okay, we're going to talk about this history, but we're going to talk about it with an eye for points of entry, where this history can be incorporated into that which we are already being asked to teach in the classroom." Whether that is in APUSH, or whether that is in a local state history. Or even whether we are just introducing these new concepts to our youngest learners in early elementary, or even in kindergarten and the like.
Bethany Jay: Mm-hmm. Yeah, thinking about how do we reframe what we are already doing to be inclusive of this story as well. As I think about the legislation that's meant to limit what we talk about in the classroom, ultimately that is so naive, because it's assuming that our students don't experience this history, don't see it anywhere except in the classroom. And the idea that our students are going to be entirely ignorant of this if we're not talking about it in the classroom, and just have the Pollyanna kind of view is just incorrect, because this is all around us in all of the ways that you and I have talked about today. And what's more dangerous than actually talking about it in the classroom and making sense of things is having the pieces and no way to put it together into a logical whole.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And then that's when you get the frustration on the part of students, and they just shut down, right?
Bethany Jay: Yeah.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Because it's like, "This doesn't make any sense." And when the subject doesn't make any sense to the student, then the student will shut down. And then we've lost them as educators. And that's not what we want at all.
Bethany Jay: Yeah. And as citizens, right?
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And as citizens. Right, right. Next thing you know, they're storming the damn Capitol.
Bethany Jay: That's right. [laughs]
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: So Dr. Bethany Jay, I am excited about this season. We have a lot to cover, but we've mapped out something that I think is really going to be phenomenal. We're going to be hitting it from all angles. And I cannot wait to dive right in.
Bethany Jay: Me, too. I'm very excited about getting started with all of these conversations.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: All right. We'll be back soon. And like you said, we'll get it started.
Bethany Jay: Sounds good!
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Teaching Hard History is a podcast from Learning for Justice—the education arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center—helping teachers and schools prepare students to be active participants in a diverse democracy. Learning for Justice provides free teaching materials about slavery, Reconstruction, the civil rights movement and more. You can find award-winning films and classroom-ready texts at LearningForJustice.org.
Bethany Jay: Most students leave high school without an understanding of the Jim Crow era, or its continuing relevance. This podcast is part of an effort to change that. In our fourth season, we're examining what happened after Emancipation—and tracing it’s legacy.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: This podcast was produced by Mary Quintas and senior producer Shea Shackelford. Russell Gragg is our associate producer. "Music Reconstructed" is produced by Barrett Golding. And Cory Collins provides content guidance. Amelia Gragg is our intern. Kate Shuster is the series creator. And our managing producer is Miranda LaFond.
Bethany Jay: If you like what you've heard, please share it with your friends and colleagues. And let us know what you think. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We always appreciate your feedback.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I'm Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, associate professor of history at The Ohio State University.
Bethany Jay: I'm Dr. Bethany Jay, professor of history at Salem State University.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries and Bethany Jay: And we're your hosts for Teaching Hard History.
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