Cover image for The unsteady march : the rise and decline of racial equality in America
The unsteady march : the rise and decline of racial equality in America
Klinkner, Philip A.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
vii, 417 pages ; 24 cm
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E185 .K55 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E185 .K55 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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American life is filled with talk of progress and equality, especially when the issue is that of race. But has the history of race in America really been the continuous march toward equality we'd like to imagine it has? This sweeping history of race in America argues quite the opposite: that progress toward equality has been sporadic, isolated, and surrounded by long periods of stagnation and retrenchment.

"[An] unflinching portrait of the leviathan of American race relations. . . . This important book should be read by all who aspire to create a more perfect union."-- Publishers Weekly , starred review

"Could it be that our unswerving belief in the power of our core values to produce racial equality is nothing but a comforting myth? That is the main argument put forth by Philip Klinkner and Rogers Smith . . . The Unsteady March is disturbing because it calls into question our cherished national belief and does so convincingly. . . . [It] is beautifully written, and the social history it provides is illuminating and penetrating."--Aldon Morris, American Journal of Sociology

Winner of the Horace Mann Bond Award of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research at Harvard University.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Civil rights workers sometimes said that for every step toward racial progress, the community would often slide two steps back. This "unsteady march" is documented in this unflinching portrait of the leviathan of American race relations. Klinkner (The Losing Parties) teaches government at Hamilton College and Smith (a Pulitzer finalist for Civic Ideas) teaches race and politics at Yale. They contend that racial progress hinges on three factors: a pending large-scale war, supportive government rhetoric and strong domestic political organizations or advocacy groups. "The normal experience of the typical black person in U.S. history has been to live in a time of stagnation and decline in progress toward racial equality," they assert. Their dense and compelling synthesis of many primary and secondary sources bears out a long history of atrocities and political maneuvering from the time of the Revolution through the Clinton presidency, while highlighting the role of the black press and the moods of various communities. The authors' theories will likely spur debate, yet they offer scholarly confirmation of a notion widely held in the black community for many decades. Acknowledging that the modern civil rights movement has irrevocably transformed this country, Klinkner and Smith conclude by arguing that there are nonetheless "abundant similarities" between our racial and political debates and those of the late 19th century. This important book should be read by all who aspire to create a more perfect union. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Political scientists Klinkner (Hamilton Coll.) and Smith (Yale) argue that American racial progress has occurred only in ten- to 15-year bursts and then only in three specific sets of circumstances: when war required black bodies, when fighting an enemy required egalitarian rhetoric, or when domestic political protest pressured for reforms. Progress, they note, has always been followed by years of stagnation and decline, as the white elite reconsolidates its (entrenched) power, blocking reform and embracing inequalities. In other words, whether we shall overcome depends on the national will to realize classic American ideals. The authors' rigorous, exhortatory exposition promises to unsettle some readers, but, in the end, it stands with important works such as Jennifer L. Hochschild's Facing Up to the American Dream: Race, Class, and the Soul of the Nation (Princeton Univ., 1995). It calls on Americans to confront the persistent black-white divide and the disparity between democratic promise and practice. Recommended for the U.S. politics, history, or race relations sections of public and academic collections.√ĄThomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Klinkner and Smith's thesis is that improvements in race relations in the US have occurred only in brief periods and under special conditions. They argue that in fact such gains have been made on only three occasions: the Revolutionary War era; the Civil War era; and the WW II and Cold War era. In each instance the successes have been followed by stagnation and retrenchment. The authors' wave theory of race relations generally rings true but does not include smaller waves that have occurred from time to time. Consequently this history of black and white relations is oversimplified and cast into a more rigid mold than a more complete story would be. Klinkner and Smith cite three basic factors for racial progress in the US: the presence of a significant crisis in which the ideologies of equality and democracy require Americans to work together; that the crisis necessitates the economic and military mobilization of blacks; and that the crisis is used by a black leadership to press the nation for domestic reform. They present a successful alternative to the argument that progress in race relations has been and is proceeding on a steady march toward the end of discrimination. All levels. L. H. Grothaus; emeritus, Concordia University

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Unsteady March
1 "Bolted with the Lock of a Hundred Keys" The Era of Slavery, 1619-1860
2 "Thenceforward, and Forever Free" The Civil War, 1860-1865
3 "The Negro Has Got as Much as He Ought to Have" Reconstruction and the Second Retreat, 1865-1908
4 "The Color Line" Jim Crow America, 1908-1938
5 "Deutschland and Dixieland" Antifascism and the Emergence of Civil Rights, 1938-1941
6 "Double V: Victory Abroad, Victory at Home" World War II
7 "Hearts and Minds" The Cold War and Civil Rights, 1946-1954
8 "There Comes a Time" The Civil Rights Revolution, 1954-1968
9 "Benign Neglect?" Post-Civil Rights America, 1968-1998
Conclusion Shall We Overcome?