Class and the Color Line

Interracial Class Coalition in the Knights of Labor and the Populist Movement

Class and the Color Line

Politics, History, and Culture

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Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 18 tables, 10 figures Published: October 2007

Author: Joseph Gerteis

American Studies, History > U.S. History, Sociology

A lauded contribution to historical sociology, Class and the Color Line is an analysis of social-movement organizing across racial lines in the American South during the 1880s and the 1890s. The Knights of Labor and the Populists were the largest and most influential movements of their day, as well as the first to undertake large-scale organizing in the former Confederate states, where they attempted to recruit African Americans as fellow workers and voters.

While scholars have long debated whether the Knights and the Populists were genuine in their efforts to cross the color line, Joseph Gerteis shifts attention from that question to those of how, where, and when the movements’ organizers drew racial boundaries. Arguing that the movements were simultaneously racially inclusive and exclusive, Gerteis explores the connections between race and the movements’ economic and political interests in their cultural claims and in the dynamics of local organizing.

Interpreting data from the central journals of the Knights of Labor and the two major Populist organizations, the Farmers’ Alliance and the People’s Party, Gerteis explains how the movements made sense of the tangled connections between race, class, and republican citizenship. He considers how these collective narratives motivated action in specific contexts: in Richmond and Atlanta in the case of the Knights of Labor, and in Virginia and Georgia in that of the Populists. Gerteis demonstrates that the movements’ collective narratives galvanized interracial organizing to varying degrees in different settings. At the same time, he illuminates the ways that interracial organizing was enabled or constrained by local material, political, and social conditions.


Class and the Color Line greatly enriches our understanding of the historical grounds of racial inequality in American politics.” — Elisabeth S. Clemens, American Journal of Sociology

“[A] fine study of race and class in the United States . . . [and] an impressive account of how organizational narratives shape social movement boundary work.” — Jeffrey Haydu, Contemporary Sociology

“[A] well written, impressively researched book [that] has much to praise. . . . Well worth reading for scholars of labor, politics, and race relations in the late nineteenth-century South.” — American Historical Review

“It is not difficult to be impressed by the caliber of Gerteis’ scholarship. He covers key theoretical questions and large amounts of literature with commendable clarity and efficiency, confidently inserting his new perspectives. . . . it will likely make a lasting contribution to the scholarship on race, class, and popular movements, especially in the US South.” — David Goutor, Labour/Le Travail

“Gerteis’s book makes major contributions to the fields of labor history, sociology, and race studies (including ‘whiteness studies’). It will be of particular interest to scholars of 19th century race and reform, whether before or after the Civil War. Gerteis provides an interesting and readable analysis of what happened after Reconstruction ended, and Class and the Color Line traces a number of pre-war issues, especially the growth of labor republicanism, into the Gilded Age.” — Beverly C. Tomek, Working USA

“Professor Gerteis provides and innovative analysis of social movements and how they were organized across racial lines in the South during the later part of the nineteenth century. . . .The book merits attention of those interested in social movements, labor history, and the historical development of racism in the United States.” — Arthur G. Neal, Journal of American Culture

“Readers of Class and the Color Line will gain new insights and ways to consider the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in social movements. Imaginatively researched and clearly written, Gerteis has written a smart, informative, and provocative book of value to anyone interested in the confounding relationship between race and class in American history.” — Charles Postel H-Law, H-Net Reviews

“This innovative and insightful study sheds new light on interracial organizing by the Knights of Labor and the Populists in the late-nineteenth-century South and provides a framework for understanding the broader interactions between race and class politics in the United States and beyond.” — William P. Jones, Journal of American Ethnic History

“This is a valuable book and looks upon the issue of trade union history and attempts to organise the working class to be more inclusive. . . . This is good examination of trade union history and its difficulties in drawing together different races of workers in the same class. It has good relevance and applicability for scholars in the field and as mentioned rather depressingly, these issues remain pertinent even today.” — Jeff Fernandez, Newsletter of the British Sociological Association

"[A] fresh analysis. . . . Gerteis succeeds in showing with greater granularity how those movements failed to provide real alternatives to the racial dynamics of the era." — Jeffrey J. Crow, Journal of American History

"Highly recommended." — K. G. Wilkison, Choice

“No issue has dogged American history more than the entangling of race and class. At the end of the nineteenth century, the complicated relations between the two shaped political struggles that have influenced American politics ever since. The fate of Populism and the Knights of Labor is thus important not just for understanding the ‘Gilded Age’ but for understanding American society in general. Joseph Gerteis brings new insights to these crucial cases, especially about how local structural conditions shaped participation in broader movements, and about the interracial organizing that took place despite animosities and manipulations. His book deserves to be widely read.” — Craig Calhoun, University Professor of the Social Sciences, New York University

“The first serious review in years of the great late-nineteenth-century social movements. Combining a theoretical overview with selected case studies, Joseph Gerteis convincingly demonstrates how the race, class, and republican identities of the actors were shaped by the shifting strategic possibilities of the moment.” — Leon Fink, editor of the journal Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas


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Price: $26.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Joseph Gerteis is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. He is a coeditor of Classical Sociological Theory and Contemporary Sociological Theory. Class and the Color Line won the 2005 President’s Book Award from the Social Science History Association.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

1. Republican Radicalism 15

2. Race, Class, and Republican Virtue in the Knights of Labor 49

3. The Knights of Labor in Richmond, Virginia 76

4. The Knights of Labor in Atlanta, Georgia 102

5. Race and the Populist “Hayseed Revolution” 126

6. Race and the Agrarian Revolt in Georgia 151

7. Race and the Agrarian Revolt in Virginia 176

8. Class, Status, Power, and the Interracial Project 201

Appendix: Data Collection, Sources ,and Methods 211

Notes 221

References 253

Index 269
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4224-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4210-6
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