The Burning House Jim Crow and the Making of Modern America Anders Walker

Publication date:
20 Mar 2018
Yale University Press
304 pages: 235 x 156mm

A startling and gripping reexamination of the Jim Crow era, as seen through the eyes of some of the most important American writers

In this dramatic reexamination of the Jim Crow South, Anders Walker investigates how prominent intellectuals like Robert Penn Warren, James Baldwin, Eudora Welty, Ralph Ellison, Flannery O’Connor, and Zora Neale Hurston handled the paradoxical relationship between diversity and equality. For some, white culture was fundamentally flawed, a “burning house,” as James Baldwin put it, that endorsed racism and violence to maintain dominance. Why should black Americans exchange their rich and valuable traditions for an inferior white culture? Southern whites, meanwhile, saw themselves preserving a rich cultural landscape against the onslaught of mass culture and federal power, a project rooted in mutual respect, not violence.
Anders Walker explores a racial diversity that was born out of Southern repression and that both black and white intellectuals worked to maintain. With great clarity and insight, he offers a new lens through which to understand the history of civil rights in the United States.

Anders Walker is the Lillie Myers Professor at Saint Louis University School of Law and the author of The Ghost of Jim Crow. He lives in St. Louis, MO.

"An absolutely first-rate and blazingly original work of scholarship. Walker's sagacious and path-breaking analysis will be lauded and embraced by scholars in multiple disciplines."—David J. Garrow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Bearing the Cross and Rising Star

“Highly original and made vivid by close readings of both well-known and little-known texts, The Burning House traces the emergence of ‘Southern pluralist views’ that ‘respected diversity and also tolerated inequality.’”— Werner Sollors, Harvard University 

"Beautifully written and well researched, The Burning House examines Jim Crow through the lenses of culture, community and intellectual history and makes an invaluable contribution to studies of race and American history."—Tomiko Brown-Nagin, author of the Bancroft prize-winning Courage to Dissent

“Anders Walker provocatively explores how and why a star-crossed array of white and black southern writers seriously probed and delivered a critique of racial integration. He goes where most literary historians have not gone: to the ironic, complex zone of imagination on both sides of the color line among many of America's greatest writers. This work is a must read for those interested in questions around race, modernism, and pluralism.”—David W. Blight, Yale University and author of Frederick Douglass: American Prophet.

"In this bold book that is sure to stir controversy, Anders Walker contends ideas about racial diversity that debuted in the literary world ultimately informed the legal world. Walker’s arresting intellectual history also speaks unmistakably to our incendiary present."—Justin Driver, University of Chicago Law School

“Highly original.”—Werner Sollors, Harvard University

“In The Burning House: Jim Crow and the Making of Modern America, Anders Walker takes up the evolving issue of race in America--a subject fraught with unresolved tensions from the past and with difficult questions for today. He expertly pairs interpretive literary and judicial discourses on segregation, integration, assimilation, and pluralism in order to understand the responses southern white writers, such as Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Robert Penn Warren, posed to Brown v. Board of Education and the waning days of legal segregation in the U.S., particularly in the American South.  Linking their ideas that sidestepped the severity and discriminatory excesses of racial segregation to the opinions of Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., on diversity and pluralism, Walker provides a provocative reassessment of the tenets of integration and proposes a finely textured analysis of pluralism. Rich with archival and unpublished materials, The Burning House offers a meticulously contextualized approach to complex mid-twentieth-century positions on race as well an astute critical perspective on their contemporary legal and social legacies.”—Thadious M. Davis, author of Southscapes: Geographies of Race, Region, and Literature