Jim Crow Capital

Women and Black Freedom Struggles in Washington, D.C., 1920–1945

By Mary-Elizabeth B. Murphy

292 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 9 halftones, 1 map, 1 graph, 5 tables

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4672-5
    Published: November 2018
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4671-8
    Published: November 2018
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4673-2
    Published: September 2018

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Local policy in the nation's capital has always influenced national politics. During Reconstruction, black Washingtonians were first to exercise their new franchise. But when congressmen abolished local governance in the 1870s, they set the precedent for southern disfranchisement. In the aftermath of this process, memories of voting and citizenship rights inspired a new generation of Washingtonians to restore local government in their city and lay the foundation for black equality across the nation. And women were at the forefront of this effort.

Here Mary-Elizabeth B. Murphy tells the story of how African American women in D.C. transformed civil rights politics in their freedom struggles between 1920 and 1945. Even though no resident of the nation's capital could vote, black women seized on their conspicuous location to testify in Congress, lobby politicians, and stage protests to secure racial justice, both in Washington and across the nation. Women crafted a broad vision of citizenship rights that put economic justice, physical safety, and legal equality at the forefront of their political campaigns. Black women's civil rights tactics and victories in Washington, D.C., shaped the national postwar black freedom struggle in ways that still resonate today.

About the Author

Mary-Elizabeth B. Murphy is assistant professor of hstory at Eastern Michigan University.
For more information about Mary-Elizabeth B. Murphy, visit the Author Page.


“In Jim Crow Capital, Murphy fuses social history’s fine-grained examinations with political history’s grand narratives. . . . Murphy’s careful mining of archival sources and black newspapers reveal the sometimes-surprising lobbying work of black women activists and their innovative direct-action strategies.”--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

Jim Crow Capital is a welcome addition to a growing body of literature on the black freedom movement and black Washington’s lives and labors in the early twentieth century. Murphy’s well-researched book reaffirms and expands our knowledge of the sacrifices, ingenuity, and activism of African American women who paved the way and shaped the second Reconstruction.”--Journal of Southern History

"The history of African American women's political organizing in interwar Washington, D.C., is important, and Murphy's work lifts up black women's persistence, ingenuity, and courage for us all to learn from and celebrate. The author's argument is fascinating, and her focus on police brutality is timely and revelatory. Washington, D.C., can, as the author implies, serve as both a key example and a progenitor of black women's political activism before the postwar civil rights movement."--Eric S. Yellin, University of Richmond

"Murphy's excellent book makes a valuable contribution to the history of the black freedom struggle. Through meticulous research, she deepens our understanding of the strategies that African American women employed to mobilize against racism locally and nationally."--Lisa G. Materson, University of California, Davis

"Mary-Elizabeth Murphy’s nuanced, ground-breaking study shines light on the oft-overlooked roles that black women played in Washington, D.C.’s early twentieth century freedom struggles. Murphy shows how black women in the nation’s capital, despite lacking the ballot, waged local and national campaigns for political rights, economic justice, and an end to race-based violence. This book is an invaluable and long overdue contribution to the burgeoning field of D.C. history."--Chris Myers Asch, co-author of Chocolate City: Race & Democracy in the Nation's Capital