Ghosts of Jim Crow

Ending Racism in Post-Racial America

326 pages

March, 2013

ISBN: 9780814737477

$30

Cloth

Also available in

Author

F. Michael Higginbotham is Dean Joseph Curtis Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law. He is the author of Race Law: Cases, Commentary, and Questions.

All books by F. Michael Higginbotham

When America inaugurated its first African American president, in 2009, many wondered if the country had finally become a "post-racial" society. Was this the dawning of a new era, in which America, a nation nearly severed in half by slavery, and whose racial fault lines are arguably among its most enduring traits, would at last move beyond race with the election of Barack Hussein Obama?
 
In Ghosts of Jim Crow, F. Michael Higginbotham convincingly argues that America remains far away from that imagined utopia. Indeed, the shadows of Jim Crow era laws and attitudes continue to perpetuate insidious, systemic prejudice and racism in the 21st century. Higginbotham’s extensive research demonstrates how laws and actions have been used to maintain a racial paradigm of hierarchy and separation—both historically, in the era of lynch mobs and segregation, and today—legally, economically, educationally and socially.
 
Using history as a roadmap, Higginbotham arrives at a provocative solution for ridding the nation of Jim Crow’s ghost, suggesting that legal and political reform can successfully create a post-racial America, but only if it inspires whites and blacks to significantly alter behaviors and attitudes of race-based superiority and victimization. He argues that America will never achieve its full potential unless it truly enters a post-racial era, and believes that time is of the essence as competition increases globally.

Reviews

  • "Rarely do Americans have the chance to speak freely about race to people beyond their own group. Higginbotham’s analysis provides a clear understanding of what it will mean to have a truly post-racial society in America, and what Americans of all races will need to do to bring about such a society. Ghosts of Jim Crow also provides an excellent foundation for robust dialogue among Americans about issues involving race and racism, from notions about racial superiority and inferiority to the unfortunate, continuing separation of the races, and victimization of African Americans. Higginbotham’s work reflects a level of honesty one rarely encounters because it challenges Americans, regardless of point of view, to look in the mirror and think about preconceived notions."

    —Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

  • "In Ghosts of Jim Crow, Higginbotham provides a thoughtful and perceptive discussion on the role of race in America today. His keen legal analysis and compelling narrative has resulted in a fascinating examination of how far we have come as a nation, but more importantly, of how far we have to go."

    —Barbara A. Mikulski, U.S. Senator for Maryland

  • "Ghosts of Jim Crow is an important work at a crucial time for our nation. Higginbotham offers scholarly insight into how America's race problem was created with a compelling prescription for its elimination."

    —Benjamin Todd Jealous, President & CEO of the NAACP

  • A vision of enhancing racial equality—or simply lessening racial inequality—in America. By African-American legal scholar Higginbotham’s account, it wasn’t until he entered a well-heeled private school that he encountered the N-word thrown his way. When it was, a white coach cracked down hard, issuing “a zero tolerance policy for racial epithets.” No more such epithets were forthcoming, though not necessarily out of any inborn kindness on the part of the man who cast that first stone. The takeaway for Higginbotham: Civil rights movements on the part of the oppressed are well and good, but “whites needed to stand up against racism in order for it to cease.” Things are better in some respects than in the 1960s, but, writes the author, the formula has changed. Blacks—and, to a greater or lesser extent, other nonwhite ethnic groups—are no longer judged and discriminated against strictly on the basis of race, but also on factors of class, education, income and access to political power, among others. For example, regarding sports: “Recruited black players could play in games, but ‘walk-on’ black players could not.” Against such broadband exclusion, Higginbotham mounts a spirited defense of affirmative action policies that is backed by good case law and by common sense—or at least a sense of fair play, for, as he notes, few complain about legacy students getting into a particular college, but people certainly do complain when the numbers of black—or Asian or Hispanic—students go up, particularly if there is a perception that they are somehow undeserving. America may be trending toward justice, but that trend is slow. Otherwise, Higginbotham asks elsewhere in this searching argument, why is there a disproportionate number of homeless blacks? A book worthy of a wide audience and wide discussion.

    Kirkus Reviews

  • "Using the fiftieth anniversary of the 1954 Brown decision as his focus, legal-scholar Higginbotham addresses the legacy of America’s racial past and its impact on race equity today. What he wants is a new conversation on race that acknowledges the old paradigm of whites at the top and blacks at the bottom of a racial hierarchy, a model that continues to this day. Higginbotham reviews the history of slavery and Jim Crow–legalized segregation and its contemporary adaptations, with the objective of dismantling the old model that is manifested in significant black separation. He focuses on false notions of white superiority, black separation and white isolation, and black victimization. Changes in the law now place proof of disparate impact over proof of intent and go beyond the employment arena, but Higginbotham argues that we must consider our racial history and legal practices that continue to reduce racial inequality. If the courts and the nation as a whole valued racial diversity as a compelling state interest, affirmative action would be seen as an active tool to reduce racial isolation, which undercuts the pursuit of racial equity."

    —Vernon Ford, Booklist Online

  • "I suggest this book for everyone. It was interesting to see how the ghosts of Jim Crow are still lurking where they really shouldn't be."

    Goodreads, Patrice Hoffman

  • "The book largely succeeds in proving that a longstanding racial paradigm continues to prevent equal opportunities for blacks and other people of color in this country—and demonstrating how this paradigm has survived through almost four centuries based on different means of oppression. Higginbotham liberally cites statistics and court cases, making the book an excellent addition as required reading for a university course." 

    California Lawyer

  • "Ghosts of Jim Crow clearly understands that the most effective approach will dismantle both the cultural underpinnings of white superiority and black inferiority as well as the legal and structural cornerstones of racial inequality. If we are going to become 'one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,' and free ourselves of the ghosts of Jim Crow, we will need our common paths illumined by Higginbotham's capacious wisdom and compassion."

    —Alex Mikulich, National Catholic Reporter

  • "Higginbotham's extensive research demonstrates how laws and actions have been used to maintain a racial paradigm of hierarchy and separation - both historically, in the era of lynch mobs and segregation, and today - legally, economically, educationally, and socially....Using history as a roadmap, Higginbotham arrives at provocative solution for ridding the nation of Jim Crow's ghost, suggesting that legal and political reform can successfully create a post-racial America, but only if it inspires whites and blacks to significantly alter behavior and attitudes of race-based superiority and victimization.  He argues that America will never achieve its full potential unless it truly enters a post-racial era, and believes that time is of the essence as competition increases globally."

    Philadelphia Tribune, Bobbi Booker