Southern Masculinity: Perspectives on Manhood in the South since Reconstruction (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Southern Masculinity: Perspectives on Manhood in the South since Reconstruction. Edited by Craig Thompson Friend. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009. Pp. xxvi, 270. $24.95 paper)

Historians of the South and numerous scholars of men's studies have anticipated the recent surge in essays, monographs, and anthologies dealing with the complex issues surrounding challenges to contemporary masculinities. The catalyst, of course, has been the election of the nation's first nonwhite president, Barack Hussein Obama, which has not only shaken the foundation of America's so-called democratic identity based on notions of white supremacy, but this important historical moment has accelerated the collapse of western civilization as we know it. Not surprisingly, the numerous well-documented public rebukes of the forty-fourth president's ability as a leader, his perceived lack of patriotism, and his often-questioned citizenship have increased exponentially as the reality of what he signifies has become clear: Obama is one hundred percent American. What is more, his presence in the White House as the world's most powerful executive has unraveled the mythology at the core of the United States of America, which we are currently witnessing [End Page 424] as a downward spiral into chaos, confusion, rebellion, and, need I say it, a resurgence of neofascist activities led by individuals and groups whose identities have been shattered into a million pieces. Unfortunately, this is not dissimilar to the period of Reconstruction in American history when black and white men challenged one another in various ways to express their conflicting ideas related to manliness and the pursuit of manhood, in an effort to claim and maintain their citizenship rights and privileges.

In Southern Masculinity: Perspectives on Manhood in the South Since Reconstruction, editor Craig Thompson Friend pulls together a set of essays which examine the layered, interwoven and fragmented histories of American men of the South, which reflect the movement leading up to the modern period of "conservative resurgence" and rebellion we find our country in today. According to Friend, this "collection of essays contextualizes and complicates the narrative of American manhood by exploring masculinity in the South since the Civil War and the many ways it has reflected and framed 'southernness,'" which I would argue has influenced the new definition of Americanness (p. viii). To be sure, this volume examines a span of American history from after the Civil War through the modern civil rights movement in an effort to understand the challenges that both African American and white men have had related to the development of new meanings associated with resistance, redemption, and a sense of self-worth beyond that of tradition.

Beginning with Karen Taylor's essay, "Reconstructing Men in Savannah, Georgia, 1865-1876," whereby she examines the ways in which African American men responded to the possibility of "establishing a more democratic society," where black people could claim a range of opportunities to experience their new sense of freedom, to Seth Dowland's essay, "A New Kind of Patriarchy: Inerrancy and Masculinity in the Southern Baptist Convention, 1979-2000," where he deconstructs the need of conservatives to assert their hypermasculine interpretation of scripture in an effort to advance a "vision of manhood that made men the only legitimate leaders of [End Page 425] their churches" and families, this volume challenges the reader to reexamine southern notions of manhood and masculinity (p. 252). Still, at the core of this collection of essays is the idea that southern white men cannot claim the naturalness of their manhood because it is a performance, one that is framed romantically by an imagined sense of the past based on an assumed universal inheritance to power, which uses fear and uncertainty to limit the ability of racial and gendered others to triumph over tradition.

Pellom McDaniels

Pellom McDaniels III teaches history and American studies at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. He is the author of "Body and Soul: History, Memory and Representations of Black Masculinity," in Whitney Harris and Ron Ferguson, eds., What's Up with the Brothas (2010) and is currently researching the life and career of the African American jockey Isaac Murphy.