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Beyond Atlanta: The Struggle for Racial Equality in Georgia, 1940-1980 (review)

From: Southeastern Geographer
Volume 42, Number 1, May 2002
pp. 153-155 | 10.1353/sgo.2002.0009

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REVIEWS153 Beyond Atlanta: The Struggle for Racial Equality in Georgia, 1940-1980. Stephen G. N. Tuck, The University of Georgia Press, Athens, 2001. 341 pp., index, maps, notes, photographs, and refs. $50.00 hardcover (ISBN 0-82032265 -2). Derek H. Alderman Beyond Atlanta is a significant work in at least two respects. First, for scholars ofthe American South, it provides the first geographically comprehensive history of Georgia's civil rights movement. Recognizing an "Atlanta-centrism" in previous scholarship, Stephen Tuck examines how Black activism in the state varied from city to city and from urban to rural areas. As he writes: "The history of black activism in the rest of the state not only provides a fuller picture of the statewide story but includes local movements that were far more vigorous than that ofthe state capital " (p. 251). In looking beyond Atlanta, Tuck notes the moderate racial climates of Rome and Brunswick, contrasting them to belligerent yet effective protests in Macon. Army bases such as Ft. Benning were also significant pockets of Black activism. Savannah has a prominent place in the book as the "leading city of protest ." It served as a breeding ground for civil rights workers and has a long history of successful and durable social movements. For instance, in 1960, shop owners in the coastal city were forced to integrate lunch counters after an eighteen-month economic boycott. According to the author, state-level analysis is a useful way of capturing a diversity of struggles and outcomes, thus "bridging the gap between overgeneralization and emphasis on localism" (p. 4). Tuck's avoidance of overgeneralization leads to the second and perhaps more important contribution of Beyond Atlanta. He recognizes the multiplicity of perspectives and goals that made up of the civil rights movement. The struggle for racial equality did not follow one normative pattern, but "involved complex interactions between black and white Georgians, with numerous dissenters on both sides" (p. 3). The author problematizes popular historical accounts that suggest that the civil rights movement began and ended with Martin Luther King, Jr. In Savannah , for example, activists often distanced themselves from the outside influence of national leadership. Local Black leaders even tried to bar King from preaching in the city. According to Tuck, the Albany movement of 1961-1962 "was the only Georgia protest to be joined by national organizations" and represented a major setback for Martin Luther King, whose presence appeared to divide rather than unify the mobilization (p. 147). Student-led protests in Columbus were weakened less by Dr. Alderman is Assistant Professor in the Department ofGeography at East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858. Internet: aldermand@mail.ecu.edu. 154REVIEWS intransigent Whites and more by a lack of support from the wider Black community, who did not embrace the direct protest approach practiced by the youth of the city. According to Tuck, the idea of a successful protest was open to a wide range of interpretations across Georgia. In some instances, integration and voter registration took a back seat to Blacks developing their community institutions and a sense of psychological and economic empowerment. Recognizing that Black activism can be defined and carried out in different and sometimes competing ways is a useful conceptual tool for geographers interested in understanding the hybrid and complex nature of African American identity and social mobilization. Analyzing the impact of race and racial struggle on space and place requires that we read narratives that challenge simplistic representations of the Black community as a monolithic, homogenous entity. In this respect, the scholarly value of Beyond Atlanta goes far beyond any specific consideration of Georgia history. Beyond Atlanta contains six substantive chapters that are ordered chronologically —from early challenges to Jim Crow in the pre-World War II period to continuing struggles over education and voting after the passage of federal civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s. Useful introductory and concluding essays bookend these chapters. The introductory essay is especially helpful in outlining the conceptual framework and empirical direction of the book. One of the most interesting chapters is a discussion of Black social mobilization in the rural counties of southwest Georgia, which fills a major hole left open by largely urban...