Elizabeth City County Courthouse, 1913. (Courtesy of the Hampton History Museum, Hampton, Va. Cheyne Collection 2009.15.1998)

Dangerous Situation

(Large photo) Elizabeth City County Courthouse, Hampton, Virginia, where Virginia Christian was tried for murder in 1912. (Small photo) Inez C. Fields, the daughter of George Washington Fields, lead defense attorney in the Virginia Christian trial. (Massachusetts Historical Society) Was it a good idea for the father [Henry Christian] to testify that he did not know the […]


A Reader’s Question

(Large photo) Courthouse in Hillsville, Virginia, where five people died in a March 1912 shooting in the Blue Ridge Mountains. (Small photo) Virginia Christian, who was charged in March 1912 with murder in Hampton, Virginia, and was not allowed to testify in her own defense. Recently a reader from Brooklyn, New York, sent me a […]

The son of former slaves, Jack Johnson became the first African American heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

Fight of the Century

Jack Johnson was the son of former slaves. When he defeated Canadian fighter Tommy Burns in 1908, he became the first African American heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Johnson was a huge threat to Jim Crow. He was proud of his blackness, a magnificent physical specimen, and worse, attractive to women of all colors. […]

Wood engraving “Discovery of Nat Turner” depicts Benjamin Phipps’s October 30, 1831, capture of Turner, leader of the Southampton County slave insurrection.

Legacy of Fear

Just hours after I posted “The Legend of Jim Crow” last week, nine black people were shot to death at a prayer meeting in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The Jim Crow stereotype is a laughing, simple, guileless “darkie.” I said I’d write about the stereotype of Nat Turner this […]

Edward Williams Clay (1799-1857) lithograph, cover to sheet music of “Jump Jim Crow,” a song popularized by American minstrel Thomas Dartmouth Rice about 1832.

The Legend of Jim Crow

“Jim Crow” is clothed in ambiguity and irony. I first came across the term in a University of Virginia class. On the syllabus was C. Vann Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow, a series of lectures at the University published in 1955. It’s likely there was a real, historical Jim Crow, an African American, […]