Jim Crow Campus: Higher Education and the Struggle for a New Southern Social Order
reviewed by Leslie K. Etienne & Tambra O. Jackson — January 11, 2019
Title: Jim Crow Campus: Higher Education and the Struggle for a New Southern Social Order
Author(s): Joy Ann Williamson-Lott
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807759120, Pages: 176, Year: 2018
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What were the major influences on academic freedom and student activism at institutions of higher education in the South during the long era of Jim Crow? Volumes of history document the social and political machinations of the period when, much like today, anti-Black racism dictated every aspect of Black peoples lives and was the impetus for policymaking and institution-building across all sectors of society (Dumas, 2016). As the tides seemingly began to change over the course of the civil rights movement, southern colleges and universities would become battlegrounds in many respects.
In Jim Crow Campus: Higher Education and the Struggle for a New Southern Social Order, Joy Ann Williamson-Lott chronicles regional distinctions regarding how southern institutions maintained racial hierarchy and resisted the role of colleges and universities as levers of social change. She offers an analysis of faculty and student experiences to tell a complex story of how southern institutions made steady progress toward transforming campuses from protectors of the southern way of life into intellectual spaces (p. 2). Her analysis shows how southern institutions remained wedded to an older conception of the role of higher education in society, one in which institutions transmitted knowledge but did not produce it (p. 7). Williamson-Lott explores the history of how southern institutions of higher education navigated around, worked to thwart, or at times simply blocked academic freedom. This was rooted in the desire at many of these institutions to exclude Black faculty and Black students. By examining the history of the highly developed Jim Crow social system of racism, Williamson-Lott provides a path to understanding how the exclusivity of southern higher education was compromised by the Black freedom movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement.
Throughout the book, the discussion of conditions at historically Black, exclusively white, and public and private institutions brings forth the narrative of how these institutions approached academic freedom. Moreover, the text provides examples of the southern context in contrast to the rest of the country. The effort by Williamson-Lott to identify these differences and to explore forced academic silence is steeped in critical inquiry, moving the discourse beyond a simple historical account. Further, the sections of the book that discuss historically Black institutions provide a more all-encompassing interrogation of this suppression, which was not strictly related to the narrative of integration. The books introduction lays the groundwork for the analysis by detailing various arguments surrounding academic freedom in the 19th and 20th centuries, including those surrounding the Civil War and Brown v. Board.
Chapter Two provides an overview of the development of higher education in the South as the 20th century progressed. It also highlights the various tactics deployed by educational accrediting bodies as well as colleges and universities themselves in an effort to maintain their oppressive practices.
Chapter Three explores student freedom of speech and the use of student presses to oppose oppressive practices. This chapter spans the 1950s and 1960s, and Williamson-Lott pays attention to the acceleration of student activism. Chapter Four focuses on faculty experiences with academic freedom, or lack thereof, on southern campuses during the McCarthy era, which was marked by extreme anti-communist sentiment. Williamson-Lott does well here to highlight suppression of dissent in higher education during this period.
Chapter Five describes how the expansion of student resistance began to interact with the ideologies of anti-war activism and Black Power in the South as some campus newspapers deepened their commitment to justice-informed writing. In this chapter, Williamson-Lott details the repressive tactics used by institutions to quell student activism, including the accusation that such students were being influenced by foreign agents.
Chapter Six discusses historically Black campuses at length and skillfully describes the complexity of their positions as well as the actions of their leadership as they attempted to navigate faculty resistance to repression. For instance, Williamson-Lott describes the firing of activist faculty members at Black institutions by boards of trustees in order to appease the culture of southern white supremacy and its agents.
Williamson-Lott concludes the book with an overview of how particular changes in academic freedom in the late 1960s and early 1970s began to take hold on southern campuses, albeit slowly. She points out that concessions were made at times because they were tied to federal funding or public opinion as civil rights gains were becoming more and more prevalent in society at large. Williamson-Lotts masterful work has haunting implications for the contemporary context as institutions across the country struggle to navigate their legacies in our current political moment as nationalist attacks on marginalized people become more overt. Moreover, this book speaks to present conversations around plantation politics and the neoliberal agenda for institutions of higher education (Squire, Williams, and Tuitt, 2018).
Dumas, M. J. (2016). Against the dark: Antiblackness in education policy and discourse. Theory Into Practice, 55(1), 1119.
Squire, D. D., Williams, B. C., & Tuitt, F. (2018). Plantation politics and neoliberal racism in
higher education: A framework for reconstructing anti-racist institutions. Teachers College Record, 120(14), 120.