Fragile Democracy

The Struggle over Race and Voting Rights in North Carolina

By James L. Leloudis, Robert R. Korstad

192 pp., 6 x 9, 22 halftones, 3 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6139-1
    Published: September 2020
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5657-9
    Published: August 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6039-4
    Published: September 2020
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6040-0
    Published: August 2020

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America is at war with itself over the right to vote, or, more precisely, over the question of who gets to exercise that right and under what circumstances. Conservatives speak in ominous tones of voter fraud so widespread that it threatens public trust in elected government. Progressives counter that fraud is rare and that calls for reforms such as voter ID are part of a campaign to shrink the electorate and exclude some citizens from the political life of the nation.

North Carolina is a battleground for this debate, and its history can help us understand why--a century and a half after ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment--we remain a nation divided over the right to vote. In Fragile Democracy, James L. Leloudis and Robert R. Korstad tell the story of race and voting rights, from the end of the Civil War until the present day. They show that battles over the franchise have played out through cycles of emancipatory politics and conservative retrenchment. When race has been used as an instrument of exclusion from political life, the result has been a society in which vast numbers of Americans are denied the elements of meaningful freedom: a good job, a good education, good health, and a good home. That history points to the need for a bold new vision of what democracy looks like.

About the Authors

James L. Leloudis is professor of history, Peter T. Grauer Associate Dean for Honors Carolina, and director of the James M. Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also co-chair of the UNC Commission on History, Race, and a Way Forward.
For more information about James L. Leloudis, visit the Author Page.

Robert R. Korstad is professor emeritus of public policy and history at Duke University's Terry Sanford School of Public Policy.
For more information about Robert R. Korstad, visit the Author Page.


"As Triangle-area professors James Leloudis and Bob Korstad ably document . . . arguments over who 'deserves' to vote are closely tied to struggles over whose interests government should serve."—Queen City Nerve

"A researched look at North Carolina's fraught relationship with race and voting. By looking back, [Leloudis and Korstad] create a framework for the future."—IndyWeek

A clarion wake-up call [that] analyzes the ongoing attack on U.S. democracy. . . . By putting current politics into historical perspective, these superb scholars help up understand how we got to this critical moment today, providing both hope and a framework to move forward.”—Journal of Southern History

“This timely book bears evidence that ‘history has a clarifying power.'”—Watson Jennison, Journal of African American History

"The core issues in Fragile Democracy have become deeply politicized in a partisan manner, and the only way to cut through that noise is by providing a reader with a factual narrative. Leloudis and Korstad do just that, delivering a detailed account of the history of racial politics in North Carolina dating back to the Civil War."--Angie Maxwell, coauthor of The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics

"Fragile Democracy provides a powerful reckoning with the history of voting rights in North Carolina, from the era of Reconstruction to our own time. James Leloudis and Robert Korstad have crafted a must-read book for anyone concerned with the past, present, and future of the state."--Kevin M. Kruse, author of Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974