Cover image for Legislating racism : the billion dollar congress and the birth of Jim Crow
Legislating racism : the billion dollar congress and the birth of Jim Crow
Upchurch, Thomas Adams.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Lexington : University Press of Kentucky, [2004]

Physical Description:
xiv, 302 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E185.61 .U63 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The Civil War and Reconstruction were characterized by two lasting legacies -- the failure to bring racial harmony to the South and the failure to foster reconciliation between the North and South. The nation was left with a festering race problem, as a white-dominated society and political structure debated the +proper role for blacks. At the national level, both sides harbored bitter feelings toward the other, which often resulted in clashes among congressmen that inflamed, rather than solved, the race problem. No Congress expended more energy debating this issue than the Fifty-First, or "Billion Dollar," Congress of 1889-1891. The Congress debated several controversial solutions, provoking discussion far beyond the halls of government and shaping the course of race relations for twentieth-century America.

Legislating Racism proposes that these congressional debates actually created a climate for the first truly frank national discussion of racial issues in the United States. In an historic moment of unusual honesty and openness, a majority of congressmen, newspaper editors, magazine contributors, and the American public came to admit their racial prejudice against not only blacks, but all minority races. If the majority of white Americans -- not just those in the South -- harbored racist sentiments, many wondered whether Americans should simply accept racism as the American way. Thomas Adams Upchurch contends that the Fifty-First Congress, in trying to solve the race problem, in fact began the process of making racism socially and politically acceptable for a whole generation, inadvertently giving birth to the Jim Crow era of American history.

Author Notes

Thomas Adams Upchurch is assistant professor of History at East Georgia College in Statesboro.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

The 1889-91 Congress quickly turned to the "race problem." Some leaders in the Republican majority hoped to enact strong elections laws that would give southern blacks full voting rights. The American public, however, had grown apathetic toward black civil rights in the decades following the Civil War and Reconstruction. Within the Republican majority, a rift developed between reformers who favored helping black southerners and "money men" who were more concerned about the nation's business interests. Legislation to improve education and voting rights for blacks soon failed, while legislation to exclude the Chinese in the west, restrict Native Americans, and control European immigration prevailed. The humanitarianism of Abraham Lincoln's party was abandoned as the nation openly embraced racism and xenophobia, paving the way for the Jim Crow separatism that would dominate the US for the next half century. This insightful study by able scholar Upchurch (East Georgia College) is clearly written and carefully documented; 41 pages of notes draw extensively from newspapers and government records, in particular. Some 15 political cartoons strengthen the text's messages, and the 24-page bibliography provides an excellent guide to primary and secondary sources. University libraries will find it a worthwhile addition for students and scholars alike. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. R. Detweiler California Polytechnic State University--San Luis Obispo