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Been Coming through Some Hard Times

Race, History, and Memory in Western Kentucky

Jack Glazier

Publication Year: 2013

“This book is a unique study of race and racism across two centuries in the hinterland of the upper South. Its implications are at once depressingly familiar and distinctly fresh.” —W. Fitzhugh Brundage, author of Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880–1930

From the earliest days when slaves were brought to western Kentucky, the descendants of both slaves and slave owners in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, have continued to inhabit the same social and historic space. Part ethnography and part historical narrative, Been Coming through Some Hard Times offers a penetrating look at this southern town and the surrounding counties, delving particularly into the ways in which its inhabitants have remembered and publicly represented race relations in their community.
    Neither Deep South nor Appalachian, this western Kentucky borderland presented unique opportunities for African American communities and also deep, lasting tensions with powerful whites. Glazier conducted fieldwork in Hopkinsville for some ten months, examining historical evidence, oral histories, and the racialized hierarchy found in the final resting places of black and white citizens. His analysis shows how structural inequality continues to prevail in Hopkinsville. The book’s ethnographic vignettes of worship services, school policy disputes, segregated cemeteries, a “dressing like our ancestors” day at an elementary school, and black family reunions poignantly illustrate the ongoing debate over the public control of memory. Ultimately, the book critiques the lethargy of white Americans who still fail to recognize the persistence of white privilege and therefore stunt the development of a truly multicultural society.
    Glazier’s personal investment in this subject is clear. Been Coming through Some Hard Times began as an exploration of the life of James Bass, an African American who settled in Hopkinsville in 1890 and whose daughter, Idella Bass, cared for Glazier as a child. Her remarkable life profoundly influenced Glazier and led him to investigate her family’s roots in the town. This personal dimension makes Glazier’s ethnohistorical account especially nuanced and moving. Here is a uniquely revealing look at how the racial injustices of the past impinge quietly but insidiously upon the present in a distinctive, understudied region.

JACK GLAZIER is a professor of anthropology at Oberlin College. He is the author of Dispersing the Ghetto: The Relocation of Jewish Immigrants across America and Land and the Uses of Tradition among the Mbeere of Kenya.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xvi

This story has several beginnings. The most recent occurred in the summer of 2001. I had just completed my thirtieth year of teaching anthropology at Oberlin College, where much of what I taught was shaped by my research experiences, first in East Africa, and then from the 1980s forward, the United States, particularly in regard to immigrants and immigration. I had taken something of a break from writing and...


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pp. xvii-xviii

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pp. 1-8

This book represents a sustained effort to understand race relations over time in Hopkinsville and Christian County, Kentucky. Part contemporary ethnography and part history, it examines how black people and white people construe in very different ways their experience, both shared and separate, in the social universe of the town. There, the past weighs heavily, even amid the continuing transitions to a new ...

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1. County and Town: Race and a Usable Past

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pp. 9-32

This chapter pursues the theme of “place” taken up in the Introduction. The story of the county and the town begins with the interrelationship between slavery and tobacco, an association accounting for the area’s very large black population on the eve of the Civil War and continuing to the present. The discussion considers the characteristic features of the town, and the domination of economic and political...

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2. Slavery, the Terror of Imagination, and Exiled Freedom in Liberia

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pp. 33-72

The centerpiece of this chapter is the unpublished journal/diary of Ellen Kenton McGaughey Wallace, a slave owner who resided both in Hopkinsville and on a nearby farm. Her private reflections about local and national events between 1849 and 1865 reveal the world of the slave owning elite and the ideology of slavery and racial domination. These reflections also embody the benign paternalism and expressions ...

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3. Inscriptions of Freedom: The Making of an African American Community

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pp. 73-112

This chapter examines efforts of former slaves in the years immediately following the Civil War to construct community institutions and lives of freedom. Facing a mix of white hostility, paternalism, and indifference, black people in the town and county sought ways of establishing a sense of personal and communal agency. They proceeded fully aware that achieving any level of autonomy and self-determination...

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4. Free but Not Equal

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pp. 113-154

Institutionalized social and economic inequality for a century after emancipation betrayed the ideals of freedom and the postbellum constitutional guarantees that black people believed were theirs. Beginning in the early twentieth century, W. E. B. Du Bois articulated activist strategies challenging the status quo, but it was Booker T. Washington to whom most black people in the town and county looked ...

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5. The Enactment of Memory: Monuments, Cemeteries, Reunions

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pp. 155-188

The examination of slavery and its aftermath taken up in previous chapters is essential to an understanding of race and power in western Kentucky, for in slavery we find the historical roots of persistent racial attitudes and behaviors. That the United States continues to grapple with the problem of black-white relations one hundred and fifty years after emancipation underscores the fact that race and...

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6. Civil Rights and Beyond

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pp. 189-212

The civil rights era created the cultural conditions under which memories divided by race would inevitably collide. As long as those memories had been located in distinct social domains, public conflict over the vernacular meanings of the past, and therefore the present, were largely avoided. Each historic memory simply reiterated the outlook of a distinctive community, secure in its unchallenged values...

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pp. 213-214

The rolling plains along the Newstead Road west of Hopkinsville even now demand little of the observer trying to imagine the physical world inhabited by Ellen McGaughey Wallace and others of the slave owning and enslaved populations of 1860. Not pristine of course, the barrens, as the plains were originally called, still remain relatively undeveloped. Although most of the antebellum country homes ...

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pp. Image 1-Image 8

...riverside cemetery, Hopkinsville, confederate Markers at camp alcorn, erected 2001.riverside cemetery, grave of Patsy Brent (1841–1921), the only black woman buried at riverside owing to the influence of her wealthy and influential employers.Walnut Street café, Hopkinsville, 2004, emma Jordan (right), proprietress, with her sister, Thelma Paulette robinson (sister of emma and Thelma) and grandchildren at the Walnut Street café, 2004, ...


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pp. 215-250


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pp. 251-264


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pp. 265-278

E-ISBN-13: 9781572339781
E-ISBN-10: 1572339780
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572339156
Print-ISBN-10: 1572339152

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 24 photos, 2 illustrations, 1 map
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 829151973
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Been Coming through Some Hard Times

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Subject Headings

  • Hopkinsville (Ky.) -- Race relations -- History.
  • Racism -- Kentucky -- Hopkinsville -- History.
  • Collective memory -- Kentucky -- Hopkinsville.
  • African Americans -- Kentucky -- Hopkinsville -- History.
  • Whites -- Kentucky -- Hopkinsville -- History.
  • Christian County (Ky.) -- Race relations -- History.
  • Racism -- Kentucky -- Christian County -- History.
  • Collective memory -- Kentucky -- Christian County.
  • African Americans -- Kentucky -- Christian County -- History.
  • Whites -- Kentucky -- Christian County -- History.
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