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Andrew S.

Terrell
Spring 2010

Précis 16 February: Gilmore, Glenda Elizabeth. Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics
of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Press, 1996.

Glenda Gilmore sought to reexamine postbellum and progressive era politics through the

eyes of African American women in her monograph. Gilmore asserts early achievements in

black women’s education in North Carolina, particularly, put women in a place of soft-spoken

political power, but allowed them profound influence in society during the reconstruction period.

Black men could vote and were seen as representatives of their families and their race. In this

era (much like pre-slavery America) class rather than race signified power. Gilmore argues that

interracial schools admitted black women before white women and this allowed social mobility

in the 1870s and 1880s in unprecedented volume. However, as white women pushed for

interracial cooperation (like the WCTU case) it became increasingly apparent that white women

did not see their colored sisters as equals, but still as subordinates. The split in the WCTU left

racial tensions largely unresolved. A subsequent movement for “better man” grading further

exacerbated tensions as blacks could only be as credible as their lower class. This ideology

carried through the minds of many educated and higher class blacks well into the twentieth

century. Gilmore posits that this ideology was used to insight patriotism in the Spanish-

American/Cuban war but later exploited in denouncing black men’s capacity to hold office and

vote. All the while black women, who were presented in exemplified manner by Gilmore, lay

quiet through the frantic 1890’s race wars, disfranchisement, and white supremacist movements

while still clinging to their enlightenment from secondary education. Gilmore’s argues

successfully that black women reemerged on the scene in WWI because white women’s
Andrew S. Terrell
Spring 2010

management capacity was limited on the homefront and their position alongside white women’s

movements continued to improve into the 1920s.

Gilmore’s engrossing narrative is lively, perhaps a bit extolling, but this could likely be a

remnant impression from preexisting scholarship conceptions which overlooked black women’s

story in the post civil-war period. Her sources are colossal in scale which gives further credence

to such an approach to the period. The monograph mixes biography with political history

throughout. She pioneered the gender approach to middle class African American studies in this

period, but did not compare the sudden rise and fall of black social classes to that of pre-slavery

America. A future scholar, however, seems to have plenty of evidence to support this correlation.

One wonders if the quicker acceptance of black women into normal schools was indeed the root

cause for much of the quick advancement in postbellum America. Gilmore largely overlooks

economic forces at play in her approach to the middle class, what could a larger survey of all

classes from the bottom-up reveal? Furthermore, had white women advanced at the same pace in

secondary education--especially in classical studies--would interracial cooperative attempts have

been more successful? After all, integration at schools seems to be the first step in getting next

generations to coexist and cooperate.