Racial Nostalgia

While segregation was particularly ruthless in the Deep South, it was not limited to that part of the country. Across the nation, de facto segregation enforced a visual culture shaped by racial anxiety. Images of black belittlement—updated versions of the savage tribesman, the illiterate handyman, enfeebled children, and other character types of nineteenth-century southern fantasy—continued to feed a national hunger for negative depictions of black people.

This hunger was motivated by many things—from the yearning for an era when white power was absolute to the need to divert attention from the complex and painful dynamic of contemporary race relations by harking back to a period when racism was even more explicit and severe. If southern bigots conjured the past in order to valorize it, white moderates outside the South often did so in order to allay the feelings of guilt, confusion, or anxiety that the campaign for racial equality, and its call for the sharing of power and resources, were eliciting in the present.

Click Images for More Detail
Shirt, 1960s
Shirt, 1960s
Shirt, 1960s
Silkscreen on cotton
Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland, 2008.003
Hot Mikado, 1939
Hot Mikado, 1939
Hot Mikado, 1939
Lithograph on paper
11 7/8 x 8 7/8 in.
Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland, 2008.003
Grow White Corn for Extra Profits, c. late 1930s
Grow White Corn for Extra Profits, c. late 1930s
American Corn Millers’ Federation, Chicago (publisher)
Charles E. Chambers (artist)
Grow White Corn for Extra Profits, c. late 1930s
Offset lithograph on paper
32 x 21 11/16 in.
Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland, 2005.202
This poster for the American Corn Millers’ Federation informed farmers about the newfound popularity of products made from white corn—tortillas, hominy, and grits—instead of the usual yellow variety. The ear of corn dwarfs the wide-eyed child, her legs suggestively straddling its huge phallic form. The image defiles its African American subject in order to emphasize the whiteness of the corn and the economic value of a white, over colored, product.