American Nightmare The History of Jim Crow

Jerrold M. Packard

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

304 Pages



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For a hundred year after the end of the Civil War, a quarter of all Americans lived under a system of legalized segregation called Jim Crow. Together with its rigidly enforced canon of racial "etiquette," these rules governed nearly every aspect of life—and outlined draconian punishments for infractions.

The purpose of Jim Crow was to keep African Americans subjugated at a level as close as possible to their former slave status. Exceeding even South Africa's notorious apartheid in the humiliation, degradation, and suffering it brought, Jim Crow left scars on the American psyche that are still felt today. American Nightmare examines and explains Jim Crow from its beginnings to its end: how it came into being, how it was lived, how it was justified, and how, at long last, it was overcome only a few short decades ago. Most importantly, this book reveals how a nation founded on principles of equality and freedom came to enact as law a pervasive system of inequality and virtual slavery.

Although America has finally consigned Jim Crow to the historical graveyard, Jerrold Packard shows why it is important that this scourge—and an understanding of how it happened—remain alive in the nation's collective memory.


Praise for American Nightmare

"Jerrold Packard's sweeping history of how white Southerners systematically oppressed black Americans after the Civil War inspires shame and admiration . . . In discussing a century of institutionalized racial oppression and its eventual demise, Packard compels us to remember that one cannot effectively confront the challenges posed by contemporary race relations without recognizing the agonies of the American past."—The Christian Science Monitor

"American Nightmare . . . is a 'must read' for those who want to understand how a once sordidly divided society evolved into a culturally diverse meritocracy . . . Mr. Packard's book is a very powerful and unsettling story of our nation's century-long 'pogrom' by vengeful white Southerners against their black neighbors. Reading these pages, one is reminded just how brutal and widespread white supremacy was in the South, especially in Mississippi and Alabama . . . a riveting portrait of a region that for decades was ruled by bloodthirsty terrorists who were determined—at all costs—to prevent blacks from becoming the social equals of whites."—The Washington Times

"This is an important documentation of an oft-forgotten piece of our history; an even-handed, well-crafted relating of Jim Crow's tragic southern reign, and his none-to-soon dethronement."—Jim Fraiser, author of Mississippi River Country Tales and a former Assistant Attorney General, Mississippi Civil Litigation Division

"[A] powerful volume . . . credible and poignant history limning the dark side of America's racial past."—Kirkus Reviews

"This book takes a broad but still readable look at Jim Crow—the system of laws and customs that confined blacks to second-class citizenship post-slavery and pre-civil rights."—The Philadelphia Inquirer

"A clear, concise, historical narrative of a draconian reality . . . moving . . . [Packard] weaves . . . a sturdy and often shocking American tapestry."—Publishers Weekly

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