Against the law: violence, crime, state repression, and black resistance in Jim Crow Mississippi
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This study examines the role and meaning of violence and crime in racial contestations in Mississippi in the era before the emergence of a mass civil rights movement. By conceiving of violence and crime as subjective, value-laden constructions, this dissertation challenges two common assumptions: black resistance in Mississippi was minimal prior to the 1960s and racial repression was predominantly one of overt racism and physical violence. Instead, discourses of crime, violence, and race within the black community reveal an extensive culture of resistance that rejected both the idea of black inferiority and the dominant interpretations of crime, violence, and justice. Meanwhile, the centralization and legalization of racial repression within the political State led to structural racism and violence more akin to the post-civil rights era than of the Jim Crow South. Even in the absence of large scale efforts, many blacks developed an alternative interpretation of Jim Crow, crime, and violence. Relying on oral histories and black xii newspapers, this project explores racial challenges and counter-hegemonic messages of racial pride and equality within the black community. Through direct confrontations, individual subversive acts, armed aggression, racial lessons at home and at school, and sharing stories of resistance and racial pride, African Americans affirmed their humanity, challenged the Jim Crow ideology, and contributed to a body of resistance that prefigured both the civil rights and Black Power movements. In terms of racial repression, in the 1950s the directly violent racial practices of the past were giving way to more nuanced strategies in which racial dissent was publicly transformed into violence and crime. The records of the State Sovereignty Commission, mainstream and black newspapers, and various manuscript collections reveal a campaign of repression characterized by secrecy, manipulation, public persuasion, and the cloaking of racial intent behind the rhetoric of law and order. Through propaganda, new raceneutral laws, surveillance, investigations, blackmail, arrests, and trials, officials tried to silence and criminalize activists as faulty citizens and convince the national and local publics that African Americans were better citizens under segregation. This concealed structural racism foreshadowed the State response to dissent in the post-civil rights era.