After the Civil War and Reconstruction, southern state legislators made Jim Crow laws and separated whites and blacks. Many blacks and sympathetic whites thought that after slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment, the status of blacks in society would improve, but then the southern state legislators enacted the Jim Crow laws. Interacting with the other race was outlawed. According to the Jim Crow laws, a person could only have a relationship with someone of the same race. For breaking Jim Crow, little harm would come to the white people who broke the laws. The punishments for breaking the law were severe, including death. Even if a black person did as little as wink at a white person, he could be in great danger from vigilante groups like the KKK and from extra-legal lynching mobs. Activists like journalist Ida B. Wells took action and organized an anti-lynching crusade.
Though the time of Jim Crow was one of violence, there were people who fought for change, just as the characters in Christina Baker Klineís novels fight for change in their daily lives so they can start anew. All of Klineís novels depict protagonists who want to escape their present circumstances and make a fresh start, but sometimes they feel paralyzed within the lives to which they have become accustomed. For instance, Cassie of Sweet Water, frustrated with her daily routine, packs up and moves to Tennessee. She does not care what her family might think, instead making this decision for herself. Cassie knows that the decision is right for her and that she will grow from this experience, in terms of knowing about what happened the night her mother died. She becomes closer with family members she hasnít seen in years and her grandmother finally tells her that her mother died from a drunk driving accident that involved her grandfather. As the stories progress, the struggle of Klineís characters become clearer and the novels show how the characters overcome their struggles proactively.
Major Works Consulted:
Higginbotham, Michael F. Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism in Post-Racial America. New York: New York UP, 2013.
Kline, Christina Baker. Sweet Water. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.
---. The Way Life Should Be.> New York: William Morrow, 2007.
Madison, James H. A Lynching in the Heartland: Race and Memory in America. New York: St. Martinís, 2000.
West Kentucky Reads Incorporates Community-Wide Art Contest Based on Christina Baker Klineís Orphan Train. Peter Heller, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.