- This Is Not Dixie: Racist Violence in Kansas, 1861–1927 by Brent M. S. Campney
Political and cultural authorities in Kansas regularly blamed outbreaks of racist violence on white southerners, usually men from Missouri who had ostensibly brought their reprobate traditions to the Sunflower State. Indeed, Kansas has long employed Dixie as a foil against which to present its own free state narrative of racial goodness. However, as Brent M. S. Campney thoroughly explicates in this book, Kansas (and, by extension, the American Midwest) was no bastion of tolerance, for “so-called southern-style” violence was manifest here from the earliest days of statehood (p. 217).
Campney opens This Is Not Dixie: Racist Violence in Kansas, 1861–1927 with the Civil War and Reconstruction. A variety of expulsions created “sundown towns,” leaving the small black population of Kansas “concentrated in scattered pockets” and allowing white residents to “[reassert] their domination with a relatively small number of spectacular incidents” (p. 43). The coming of the Exodusters precipitated more violence as white Kansans sought to keep African Americans away or at least subordinated. Indeed, much of the book after the first chapter reflects scholarly studies of antiblack violence in the South, describing alleged acts of rape that led to many lynchings, white mobs who often engaged in torture and souvenir-taking, the regular exoneration of mob members, and the eventual substitution of mob violence with state-sanctioned police violence and Jim Crow legislation. In fact, the title This Is Not Dixie, though taken from an actual quotation, recalls René Magritte’s famous painting of a pipe, The Treachery of Images, with its label, “This is not a pipe,” for this book challenges the idea of southern distinctiveness as embodied in its regime of racist violence.
Most studies on antiblack violence focus on particular taxonomies of atrocity such as lynching, race riots, police violence, and racially motivated expulsions. By contrast, Campney examines the broader continuum of racist violence in Kansas, even going beyond the enumerated body count typical of most studies to illustrate the power of threatened lynchings, or “lynchings-in-the-making,” which often go unremarked even though “they generated a level of fear among blacks commensurate with that experienced during completed lynchings because the final outcomes could never be predicted” (pp. 116, 203). The symbolic power of violence grew enormously as newspapers relayed [End Page 697] increasingly detailed accounts of atrocities from across the state and nation. As Campney makes clear, even though lynching declined in Kansas in the 1890s, the proliferation of lynching reports in the papers and the number of threatened lynchings could leave the impression that such forms of violence were on the rise.
Campney also argues for a reevaluation of the civil rights movement by tracing its origins back to abolition and emancipation, for African American leaders, such as William Bolden Townsend, who founded the State Anti-Lynching Association and the Kansas branch of the Afro-American Council, resisted the rising tide of violence in Kansas. Campney documents a black disdain for Kansas’s free state narrative as well as instances in which black newspapers rhetorically “exploited the self-righteous certainty of white Kansans who thought that they were morally superior to their southern counterparts” (p. 177). Black resistance to white mob activity during the Coffeyville riot of 1927 illustrates how traditional scholarship on the New Negro movement, “which targets the large urban centers where many intellectuals and activists resided, undermines the critical roles of ordinary people throughout the country in their common cause” (p. 200).
Campney has written an amazing and profound book that challenges many assumptions regarding racist violence in America, putting both the Midwest and the South in a deeper, richer context. This Is Not Dixie will no doubt inspire similar state-level studies.