David J. Gary

Questions for 3/13/06


From Jim Crow to Civil Rights by Michael J. Klarman (Oxford University Press, 2004)

Where on the spectrum of formalist and realist interpretations of the Constitution does Klarman lay? Does he believe that politics and the influence of society plays little role in the formulation of decisions by the Supreme Court?

Does Klarman allow a role for politics in Supreme Court decisions? Does he see justices sitting above society or acting in it? Do events shape judges or do judges shape events?

Will Constitutional history get you from Jim Crow to Civil Rights, or is it too constrained? Even if it will, are there other ways to bridge the gap from Plessy and Brown?

Why did racial issues become so sour after 1890? Why did the Republican Party abandon blacks at the turn of the 19th century?

What were the four main racial issues the Supreme Court decided upon from 1895-1910?

Is Plessy v. Fergusson a perverted reading of the Fourteenth Amendment? Is the Fourteenth Amendment the most important piece of law that this book contends with?

Does Plessy really state that railroad accommodations have to be separate and equal?

How did it come to pass that  John Marshall Harlan, a former slaveowner from Kentucky, was the sole dissenter in Plessy?

Berea College v., Kentucky (1904) and Lochner v. New York (1905) were two of the most important cases of the Plessy era. Why?

The NAACP was founded in 1909. How significant of an event was it? What did the organization do in its early years?

What are some of the historical issues that were relevant to understanding racial relations in the Progressive era?

Some of the most important racial cases of the Progressive years was Bailey v. Alabama (1911), Guinn v. Oklahoma (1915), and Buchanan v. Warley (1917). What did they each decide?

Why was litigation usually one of the safest ways for blacks to protest racial discrimination in the South?

In what ways did the Court get involved with criminal cases involving racial discrimination? Was the Court forceful enough in defending the rights of blacks in the South? Is it even possible for the Court to defend their opinions?

Why did blacks begin to vote for the Democratic Party in the 1930s? Were the 1930s a turning point in race relations for blacks?

Why does Klarman say Smith v. Allwright is the most important decision of the 20th century after Brown? What injustice did it invalidate?

Why were most of the presidents of the early 20th century negative or ambivalent about racial issues?

Klarman states “Jim Crow legislation was generally more symbolic than functional” (pg. 82) Why does he believe that?

In what ways did the black response post-World War I differ from black response post-World War II? Where would you rank World War II in importance of influences that changed racial stereotypes? What other events took place around the Second World War that changed the situation in a positive way for blacks?

Who is responsible for seeing a Supreme Court decision being put into action: lower courts, local politicians, or average citizens?

Why did school segregation become the salient racial issue of the early 1950s? Is it surprising that the issue became so important at that time?

Was the decision in Brown v. Board of Education a foregone conclusion? Could it have gone another way?

Was Earl Warren’s accession to the Chief Justice’s seat important for the Brown decision? Was Warren instrumental in the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to get a unanimous decision?

In what situations do the personal beliefs of Supreme Court justices usually come into play when making a decision? Is it good or fair that personal beliefs of the justices seep into their opinions? Does the personality of a justice matter? In what ways are justices different from the rest of society?

Why was Brown II a weak decision for the Court? Did it bolster the racial moderates or did it spark racial animosity?

What role did the Border States play in the implementation of Brown? In what ways were they different in earlier eras as well?

Klarman says “that Brown radicalized southern politics, as voters elected candidates who espoused extreme segregationist positions” (pg. 385). Why did that happen? Who were some of the historical actors responsible for the radicalization?

Brown split the civil rights movement. What sort of new groups sprang up to challenge the NAACP’s leadership role?

What is Klarman’s opinion on the Congress?

Klarman often tries to measure the effect of Supreme Court opinions on the rest of the country. Is he successful? Should historians try to measure something that cannot be pinned down definitively?

Klarman creates high drama by separately comparing the civil rights advances of blacks in one section of a chapter with the white supremacist responses in another section. Is this an effective strategy? Could he have made a better comparison by blending the two sides in his writing?