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Raised Up Down Yonder

Growing Up Black in Rural Alabama

Angela McMillan Howell

Publication Year: 2013

Raised Up Down Yonder attempts to shift focus away from why black youth are "problematic" to explore what their daily lives actually entail. Howell travels to the small community of Hamilton, Alabama, to investigate what it is like for a young black person to grow up in the contemporary rural South.

What she finds is that the young people of Hamilton are neither idly passing their time in a stereotypically languid setting, nor are they being corrupted by hip hop culture and the perils of the urban North, as many pundits suggest. Rather, they are dynamic and diverse young people making their way through the structures that define the twenty-first-century South. Told through the poignant stories of several high school students, Raised Up Down Yonder reveals a group that is often rendered invisible in society. Blended families, football sagas, crunk music, expanding social networks, and a nearby segregated prom are just a few of the fascinating juxtapositions.

Howell uses personal biography, historical accounts, sociolinguistic analysis, and community narratives to illustrate persistent racism, class divisions, and resistance in a new context. She addresses contemporary issues, such as moral panics regarding the future of youth in America and educational policies that may be well meaning but are ultimately misguided.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Series: Margaret Walker Alexander Series in African American Studies

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-2

For many years, this project resided in academic purgatory. I felt ambivalent about my inability to choose one theoretical frame that would neatly house the experiences of my ethnographic subjects, rural African America youth who live in Black Belt Alabama. Yet, each time I taught the graduate class, ?Race, Education, and Social Inequality,? I was struck by the lack of current ...

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pp. 3-20

In 2003, a few months before I began the research for this ethnography, reporters from a major national newspaper wrote a feature story about a small kindergarten through twelfth grade school from the perspective of the United States national No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy. Articles like this one were commonplace during that time period. The 2004 presidential election...

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Chapter 1: Rooted in Kin

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pp. 21-45

Arriving in the field in August 2003, the Hamilton landscape seemed so unfamiliar that I wondered how I would bridge the great divide between native and outsider. There were many areas to explore and many people, I assumed, tucked inside the crannies and crevices of rural life. With very few street signs, no streetlights or sidewalks, and few discernible neighborhoods, I knew...

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Chapter 2: Descendants of a First Choice School

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pp. 46-66

Do you like Jay Ellis? It’s alright . . . I been there every since I was three . . . and since we was staying in the country already, I wasn’t going to go to another school. Till when we moved and my mom was going to make me go to Carlyle. But I didn’t want to go, ’cause I didn’t know nobody. Then, I thought if I was going to go up there, my grades was going to drop ’cause they on another level than Jay Ellis classes are. So...

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Chapter 3: Educated at the Last Chance School

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pp. 67-94

During my time in the field, Jay Ellis was engaged in an ongoing public relations war. When Kelly stated, “people say Jay Ellis is at the bottom and we don’t learn nothing and we don’t do nothing,” she was not referring to a few people, she was referring to a widespread, accepted opinion, an ideology that permeates the school and community. Jay Ellis has been assigned a symbolic...

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Chapter 4: Reproducing Misfortune through Mess

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pp. 95-128

A good ethnography must accomplish several goals. It should critically address important thematic issues. It should situate these issues within larger historical, political, and economic circumstances. It should ground these issues in the everyday affairs of life. Over and above all else, it should give readers the feeling that they know “this place and these people.” They recognize...

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Chapter 5: Resistance and Spirituality

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pp. 129-144

The past several chapters have situated the youth of Hamilton, Alabama, within the political economy of their everyday lives. Persistent racism and inequality, especially within the school system, undergird the minute social dramas that empirically ground daily life. In this way Raised Up Down Yonder has answered Kamari Maxine Clarke and Deborah Thomas’s call for ethnographies...

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Chapter 6: Not Just Down Yonder

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pp. 145-173

At the outset of Raised Up Down Yonder, I revealed the origin of the book’s title. It came from Sabrina’s desire for readers to know “that we’re not what people think we are, what city people think we are. We’re not all country, can’t talk, cannot pronounce words and you know talk like ‘down yonder.’” In this book, I have taken Sabrina’s challenge literally, attempting to reveal the...

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pp. 174-180

The last few words of this manuscript were penned in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I was visiting family in the summer of 2012. Almost eight years had passed since I completed my ethnographic research. Though Raleigh is on the surface very different from Hamilton and Carlyle, Alabama, everywhere I visited I observed the themes of...

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pp. 181-190

Many events have transpired in Hamilton since I left in 2004. The central participants in Raised Up Down Yonder were between seventeen and eighteen years old at that time. Now, they are in their midtwenties and gradually entering the middle phase of their lives.1 Some readers might be interested in what has happened to this dynamic cast of engaging characters, since seven...

Appendix: Interview Schedule

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pp. 191-193


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pp. 194-226


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pp. 227-238


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pp. 239-245

E-ISBN-13: 9781617038815
E-ISBN-10: 1621039765
Print-ISBN-13: 9781621039761

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Margaret Walker Alexander Series in African American Studies

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Hamilton (Ala.) -- Rural conditions.
  • Hamilton (Ala.) -- Social conditions.
  • African American youth -- Education -- Alabama -- Hamilton.
  • African American youth -- Alabama -- Hamilton -- Social conditions.
  • Hamilton (Ala.) -- Race relations.
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