Book explores race and policing in the Jim Crow south

Posted 4/10/22

A local history professor is a published author.

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Book explores race and policing in the Jim Crow south

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LABELLE -- A local history professor won the silver medal in the 2021 Florida Book Awards General Nonfiction category.

Brandon T. Jett, PhD, Florida SouthWestern State College history professor, started research on what was to become “Race, Crime and Policing in the Jim Crow South,” in 2012, putting pen to ink in 2015 and completing it in 2020.

His book takes a look at a complex relationship between African Americans and law enforcement, adding what he hopes will be a new layer of understanding of race relations in the urban south in the Jim Crow era.

Jett was approached by the editor in chief of the Louisiana State University Press and Dr. David Goldfield, editor of “Making the Modern South” series for the press, encouraging him to submit a proposal, believing it would make a great edition to the series.
“I’m so thrilled that the Florida Book Awards appreciated the arguments I made in the book and recognized the significance of the work I did,” he said.

Typically, it takes months and in some cases years for book reviews to come out, so getting recognized as soon as he did was a pleasant surprise.

The recognition encourages him to do more work, he said.
“Clearly, I’m on the right track and am excited to get into the next project.”

Jett said while he was research and writing the book, the topic of race and policing in American became a focus of many people’s minds as never before.

“While on the surface it might seem like I chose the topic because of the relatively recent interest by many people, that is certainly not the case,” he said. “I began writing on race, violence and criminal justice in the Jim Crow era over a decade ago because I’m generally interested in the connections between economic, demographic, and social change to trends in crime and changes in criminal justice in the U. S. South from 1865 to the present.”

His work has covered topics including violence in late 20th century Texas, homicide trends in Memphis, policing in the Jim Crow south and racial violence and lynching in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century East Texas.

“My interest and passion in understanding the development of the American criminal justice system has only grown over time as some of the glaring problems with it have become so glaringly obvious to so many people over the last several years,” he said. “Understanding how we got to this point will, hopefully, help us understand how we can make things better moving forward.”
Jett was born and raised in Houston, graduating in 2007 from Texas State University-San Marcos with a bachelor’s degree in political science and in 2012 a master’s degree in history.

In between the two degrees he worked with Earth Measurement Corporation in Katy, Texas, for a year.

In 2017 he received his PhD in history from the University of Florida, going on to work at Rollins College in Winter Park for two years as a visiting assistant professor of history.
He has lived in LaBelle with his wife and daughter since 2019 while working at Florida SouthWestern State College: Hendry-Glades Curtis Center and at the Clewiston Collegiate Academy where he teaches U.S. history and world history.

“We like it here,” he said. “It was a nice change of scenery and pace from where we previously lived in Winter Park, Fla. People have welcomed us into the community and proved really supportive of my work in the classroom and in the community.”
Jett said one of the great things about being a professor working towards a doctorate degree involves a great deal of research and writing, which helped him in his efforts writing a book.

“This is how academic disseminate historical knowledge and insight,” he said. “I never really needed inspiration; it was part of what I wanted to a be as a professional historian. I will say this, though. There is something really magical about writing something. We all have really great ideas in our minds but putting those ideas down on a page makes them more real, more concrete. I’d encourage anyone who thinks they have really good ideas to spend some time with those ideas by writing them down.”

The biggest challenge was finding the time to do the work, he said.

“It takes time to sit down and think through your ideas,” he said.

“Or ideas would pop into my head while I was walking my dog and not necessarily in the right place to hurry over to a computer and write it down. It really is a fun intellectual process but writing really does take a lot of time.”

Readers can look forward to Jett’s upcoming edited volume with Texas A&M Press looking at historical trends in violence in Texas due out in Spring 2023. He’s also in the research phase of a book looking at homicides in Memphis, Tenn. From 1917-1972.

Jett has no plans to retire from university, however.

“I really enjoy teaching and working with students on a daily basis,” he said. “Hopefully I can carve out some time in between classes to get a second book out sooner or later.

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