The main takeaway from this book, as stated in the introduction, the main text, the afterword, and from an oft-cited reference to this book from Martin Luther King, is the reminder that Jim Crows laws were a specific, targeted response to and reaction against not the end of the Civil War, but the later post-Reconstruction decades of the end of the 19th century. The reason why Woodward spends so much time emphasizing this point is that within the cultural mythos of the post-war period, there was a prevailing idea that Jim Crow laws were about resetting society to pre-war conditions. Instead, it was a new order that was ahistorical in the South. He goes on later to discuss how the South didn’t invent these ideas, and instead borrowed them from Northern cities. This last point is mostly in response to misuse of this history by people in the North as a way to excuse their own racial prejudice. So the idea throughout this book is to discuss the complicated history that led to th development of the Jim Crows, the culture that supported them, and then ways in which this history fell apart. The main text of the book is kind of hopeful, in part because it was written just after the Brown v Board of Education decision, but the last chapter, goes on to update the history to 1965, reflecting the further attempts and fallout from the end of Jim Crow as a de jure system.
I very much had this book mixed up with a different book, Jump Jim Crow, which is more about the musical, the minstrelsy, and the history surrounding that. This on the other hand is a completely different book about the short history of the Jim Crows laws in the South.