Racism in the Nation's Service

Government Workers and the Color Line in Woodrow Wilson's America

By Eric S. Yellin

320 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 21 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2838-7
    Published: February 2016
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-0721-4
    Published: April 2013
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8473-2
    Published: April 2013

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Between the 1880s and 1910s, thousands of African Americans passed civil service exams and became employed in the executive offices of the federal government. However, by 1920, promotions to well-paying federal jobs had nearly vanished for black workers. Eric S. Yellin argues that the Wilson administration's successful 1913 drive to segregate the federal government was a pivotal episode in the age of progressive politics. Yellin investigates how the enactment of this policy, based on Progressives' demands for whiteness in government, imposed a color line on American opportunity and implicated Washington in the economic limitation of African Americans for decades to come.

Using vivid accounts of the struggles and protests of African American government employees, Yellin reveals the racism at the heart of the era's reform politics. He illuminates the nineteenth-century world of black professional labor and social mobility in Washington, D.C., and uncovers the Wilson administration's progressive justifications for unraveling that world. From the hopeful days following emancipation to the white-supremacist "normalcy" of the 1920s, Yellin traces the competing political ideas, politicians, and ordinary government workers who created "federal segregation."

About the Author

Eric S. Yellin is associate professor of history and American studies at the University of Richmond.
For more information about Eric S. Yellin, visit the Author Page.


"Yellin's well-written treatise reminds readers how far the U.S. has come in its quest for racial equality. Recommended. Most levels/libraries."--Choice

“Yellin makes an important contribution to our understanding of ‘white supremacy.’”--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“This is an excellent, well-researched, and well-written study. Yellin’s diverse sources are impressive as is his ability to weave them into a tight analysis.”-- Journal of American History

“A very compelling read.”--History: Reviews of New Books

“[A] thoroughly researched and artfully crafted book.”--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

“Yellin’s work is lucid and illuminating. He provides a thorough, readable, and well-rounded narrative filled with vivid examples and sharp analysis.”--Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

Multimedia & Links

Read In a guest blog post, Eric S. Yellin addresses the centennial anniversary of Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration and the introduction of Jim Crow discrimination in government offices. Read "Woodrow Wilson’s Inauguration a Disheartening Anniversary"