Your cart is empty.
Rough Tactics - Black Performance in Political Spectacles, 1877–1932

Rough Tactics

Black Performance in Political Spectacles, 1877–1932

By Mark A. Johnson
Hardcover : 9781496832825, 250 pages, 28 b&w illustrations, May 2021
Paperback : 9781496832832, 250 pages, 28 b&w illustrations, May 2021

A probing of the earliest Black efforts to overcome disfranchisement popular politics in the Jim Crow South


In Rough Tactics: Black Performance in Political Spectacles, 1877–1932, author Mark A. Johnson examines three notable cases of Black participation in the spectacles of politics: the 1885–1898 local-option prohibition contests of Atlanta and Macon, Georgia; the United Confederate Veterans conflict with the Musicians’ Union prior to the 1903 UCV Reunion in New Orleans; and the 1909 Memphis mayoral election featuring Edward Hull Crump and W. C. Handy. Through these case studies, Johnson explains how white politicians and Black performers wielded and manipulated racist stereotypes and Lost Cause mythology to achieve their respective goals. Ultimately, Johnson portrays the vibrant, exuberant political culture of the New South and the roles played by both Black and white southerners.

During the nadir of race relations in the United States South from 1877 to 1932, African Americans faced segregation, disfranchisement, and lynching. Among many forms of resistance, African Americans used their musical and theatrical talents to challenge white supremacy, attain economic opportunity, and transcend segregation. In Rough Tactics, Johnson argues that African Americans, especially performers, retooled negative stereotypes and segregation laws to their advantage. From 1877 to 1932, African Americans spoke at public rallies, generated enthusiasm with music, linked party politics to the memory of the Civil War, honored favorable candidates, and openly humiliated their opposition.


"A truly original and marvelous book! From the opening pages, when we learn that W. C. Handy, the ‘father’ of the blues, played at rallies for the most strident white racists of the age to an account of the fraught negotiations between Black musicians and Confederate veterans in New Orleans, Johnson reveals the nexus of politics, public spectacle, and African American music in the New South. Beautifully written and elegantly illustrated, Rough Tactics is a powerful reminder of complexity of cultural politics during the simultaneous renaissance of Black musical creativity and the zenith of white supremacy. "

- W. Fitzhugh Brundage, William B. Umstead Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"Rough Tactics is a breath of fresh air. By showing the complex centrality of music to the politics of the post–Civil War South, Mark A. Johnson has contributed greatly to our understanding of the breakthroughs and backlashes of that pivotal period. It will be an essential addition not only to the understanding of Black and white music in US history, but also to the ways that music intersected with larger cultural, political, and social shifts. "

- Charles L. Hughes, director of the Lynne and Henry Turley Memphis Center, Rhodes College

"Johnson has bridged a gap between two seemingly disparate fields of New South history: popular politics and popular music. This is an exciting intersection that helps advance the cause of regarding American musical culture as a rich storehouse of evidence for understanding myriad social phenomena, including political behavior. It’s also a testament to the vibrancy of political consciousness and activity among people who were supposedly locked out of the electoral process; Johnson invites us to look with fresh eyes at African Americans’ political roles in the Jim Crow South. "

- Rob Lawson, professor of history, Dean College