Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans examines a difficult chapter in American religious history: the story of race prejudice in American Christianity. Focusing on the largest city in the late-nineteenth-century South, it explores the relationship between churches--black and white, Protestant and Catholic--and the emergence of the Jim Crow laws, statutes that created a racial caste system in the American South. The book fills a gap in the scholarship on religion and race in the crucial decades between the end of Reconstruction and the eve of the Civil Rights movement.
Drawing on a range of local and personal accounts from the post-Reconstruction period, newspapers, and church records, Bennett's analysis challenges the assumption that churches fell into fixed patterns of segregation without a fight. In sacred no less than secular spheres, establishing Jim Crow constituted a long, slow, and complicated journey that extended well into the twentieth century.
Churches remained a source of hope and a means of resistance against segregation, rather than a retreat from racial oppression. Especially in the decade after Reconstruction, churches offered the possibility of creating a common identity that privileged religious over racial status, a pattern that black church members hoped would transfer to a national American identity transcending racial differences. Religion thus becomes a lens to reconsider patterns for racial interaction throughout Southern society. By tracing the contours of that hopeful yet ultimately tragic journey, this book reveals the complex and mutually influential relationship between church and society in the American South, placing churches at the center of the nation's racial struggles.