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Fragile Democracy: The Struggle Over Race and Voting Rights in North Carolina

America is at war with itself over the right to vote, or, more precisely, over the question of who gets to exercise that right and under what circumstances. North Carolina is a battleground for this debate, and its history can help us understand why – a century and a half after the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment – we remain a nation divided on the issue of free and fair elections.

Fragile Democracy tells the story of race and voting rights, from the end of the Civil War until the present day. It shows that struggles over the franchise have played out through cycles of emancipatory politics and conservative retrenchment. When race has been used as an instrument of exclusion from political life, the result has been a society in which vast numbers of Americans are denied the elements of meaningful freedom: a good job, a good education, good health, and a good home. This history points to the need for a bold new vision of what democracy looks like.

James L. Leloudis

Professor of History, Peter T. Grauer Associate Dean for Honors Carolina, and Director, The James M. Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence, College of Arts and Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill



Robert R. Korstad

Professor Emeritus of History and Public Policy, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University






The authors completed our Ph.D.’s in the 1980s at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where they worked in the Southern Oral History Program – then, as it is today, a beacon for students who believe in scholarship’s power to make a change in the world. They have continued along that path ever since. At Duke University, Bob helped to guide the Behind the Veil Project, which used oral history interviews to record the living memory of black communities in the age of segregation. Today, at UNC, Jim co-chairs a new Commission on History, Race, and a Way Forward. Its charge is to promote racial healing and repair by researching, documenting, and teaching the story of slavery and Jim Crow at the university. They have also worked as expert witnesses in court cases aimed at defending every citizen’s right to vote. Fragile Democracy is a part of this long commitment to writing history that looks forward to a more just and equitable future.

Register in advance: https://duke.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJIuduCtqDwqE9MtFSyrgBmialF1qZqYcvUJ

The moderator of the event is Deondra Rose, Assistant Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy.


October 7
5:30 pm - 7:30 pm