Making the Modern South

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

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Making the Modern South

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A Campaign of Quiet Persuasion

How the College Board Desegregated SAT® Test Centers in the Deep South, 1960-1965

Jan Bates Wheeler. foreword by David Coleman

In 1960, the College Entrance Examination Board became an unexpected participant in the movement to desegregate education in the South. Working with its partner, Educational Testing Services, the College Board quietly integrated its Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) centers throughout the Deep South. Traveling from state to state, taking one school district and even one school at a time, two College Board staff members, both native southerners, waged "a campaign of quiet persuasion" and succeeded, establishing a roster of desegregated test centers within segregated school districts while the historic battle for civil rights raged around them. In the context of the larger struggle for equal opportunities for southern black students, their work addressed a small but critical barrier to higher education.

Shedding light on this remarkable story for the first time, Jan Bates Wheeler tells how the College Board staff members -- Ben Cameron and Ben Gibson -- succeeded. Their candid and thoughtfully written records of conversations and confrontations, untouched for nearly fifty years, reveal the persistence required to reach a goal many thought unachievable and even foolhardy. Indeed, their task placed them in the unusual position of advocating for school desegregation on a day-to-day basis as part of their jobs. This positioned Cameron and Gibson squarely in opposition to prevailing laws, customs, and attitudes -- an ill-advised stance for any nascent business venture, particularly one experiencing competition from a new, rival testing organization purported to accommodate openly those same laws, customs, and attitudes.

Cameron and Gibson also accepted the personal danger involved in confrontations with racist school officials. The officials who cooperated with the pair assumed even greater risk, and in order to minimize that threat, Cameron and Gibson pledged not to publicize their efforts. Even years after their work had ended, the two men refused to write about their campaign for fear of compromising the people who had helped them. Their concerns, according to Wheeler, kept this remarkable story largely untold until now.

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Delaying the Dream

Southern Senators and the Fight against Civil Rights, 1938-1965

Keith M. Finley

Few historical events lend themselves to such a sharp delineation between right and wrong as does the civil rights struggle. Consequently, many historical accounts of white resistance to civil rights legislation emphasize the ferocity of the opposition, from the Ole Miss riots to the depredations of Eugene "Bull" Conner's Birmingham police force to George Wallace's stand on the schoolhouse steps. While such hostile episodes frequently occurred in the Jim Crow South, civil rights adversaries also employed other, less confrontational but remarkably successful, tactics to deny equal rights to black Americans. In Delaying the Dream, Keith M. Finley explores gradations in the opposition by examining how the region's principal national spokesmen—its United States senators—addressed themselves to the civil rights question and developed a concerted plan of action to thwart legislation: the use of strategic delay. Prior to World War II, Finley explains, southern senators recognized the fall of segregation as inevitable and consciously changed their tactics to delay, rather than prevent, defeat, enabling them to frustrate civil rights advances for decades. As public support for civil rights grew, southern senators transformed their arguments to limit the use of overt racism and appeal to northerners. They granted minor concessions on bills only tangentially related to civil rights while emasculating those with more substantive provisions. They garnered support by nationalizing their defense of sectional interests and linked their defense of segregation with constitutional principles to curry favor with non-southern politicians. While the senators achieved success at the federal level, Finley shows, they failed to challenge local racial agitators in the South, allowing extremism to flourish. The escalation of white assaults on peaceful protesters in the 1950s and 1960s finally prompted northerners to question southern claims of tranquility under Jim Crow. When they did, segregation came under direct attack, and the principles that had informed strategic delay became obsolete. Finley's analysis goes beyond traditional images of the quest for racial equality--the heroic struggle, the southern extremism, the filibusters--to reveal another side to the conflict. By focusing on strategic delay and the senators' foresight in recognizing the need for this tactic, Delaying the Dream adds a fresh perspective to the canon on the civil rights era in modern American history.

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Delta Empire

Lee Wilson and the Transformation of Agriculture in the New South

Jeannie Whayne

In Delta Empire: Lee Wilson and the Transformation of Agriculture in the New South Jeannie Whayne employs the fascinating history of a powerful plantation owner in the Arkansas delta to recount the evolution of southern agriculture from the late nineteenth century through World War II. After his father’s death in 1870, Robert E. “Lee” Wilson inherited 400 acres of land in Mississippi County, Arkansas. Over his lifetime, he transformed that inheritance into a 50,000-acre lumber operation and cotton plantation. Early on, Wilson saw an opportunity in the swampy local terrain, which sold for as little as fifty cents an acre, to satisfy an expanding national market for Arkansas forest reserves. He also led the fundamental transformation of the landscape, involving the drainage of tens of thousands of acres of land, in order to create the vast agricultural empire he envisioned. A consummate manager, Wilson employed the tenancy and sharecropping system to his advantage while earning a reputation for fair treatment of laborers, a reputation—Whayne suggests—not entirely deserved. He cultivated a cadre of relatives and employees from whom he expected absolute devotion. Leveraging every asset during his life and often deeply in debt, Wilson saved his company from bankruptcy several times, leaving it to the next generation to successfully steer the business through the challenges of the 1930s and World War II. Delta Empire traces the transition from the labor-intensive sharecropping and tenancy system to the capital-intensive neo-plantations of the post–World War II era to the portfolio plantation model. Through Wilson’s story Whayne provides a compelling case study of strategic innovation and the changing economy of the South in the late nineteenth century.

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Gendered Politics in the Modern South

The Susan Smith Case and the Rise of a New Sexism

Keira V. Williams

In the fall of 1994 Susan Smith, a young mother from Union, South Carolina, reported that an African American male carjacker had kidnapped her two children. The news sparked a multi-state investigation and evoked nationwide sympathy. Nine days later, she confessed to drowning the boys in a nearby lake, and that sympathy quickly turned to outrage. Smith became the topic of thousands of articles, news segments, and media broadcasts—overshadowing the coverage of midterm elections and the O. J. Simpson trial. The notoriety of her case was more than tabloid fare, however; her story tapped into a cultural debate about gender and politics at a crucial moment in American history. In Gendered Politics in the Modern South Keira V. Williams uses the Susan Smith case to analyze the “new sexism” found in the agenda of the budding neoconservatism movement of the 1990s. She notes that in the weeks after Smith’s confession, soon-to-be Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich made statements linking Smith’s behavior to the 1960s counterculture movement and to Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” social welfare programs. At the same time, various magazines declared the “death of feminism” and a “crisis in masculinity” as the assault on liberal social causes gained momentum. In response to this perceived crisis, Williams argues, a distinct code of gender discrimination developed that sought to reassert a traditional form of white male power. In addition to consulting a wide variety of sources, including letters from Smith written since her incarceration, Williams contextualizes the infamous case within the history of gender politics over the last quarter of the twentieth century. She reveals how the rhetoric, imagery, and legal treatment of infanticidal mothers changed and asserts that the latest shift reflects the evolution of a neoconservative politics.

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Haunted by Atrocity

Civil War Prisons in American Memory

Benjamin G. Cloyd

During the Civil War, approximately 56,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died in enemy military prison camps. Even in the midst of the war’s shocking violence, the intensity of the prisoners’ suffering and the brutal manner of their deaths provoked outrage, and both the Lincoln and Davis administrations manipulated the prison controversy to serve the exigencies of war. As both sides distributed propaganda designed to convince citizens of each section of the relative virtue of their own prison system—in contrast to the cruel inhumanity of the opponent—they etched hardened and divisive memories of the prison controversy into the American psyche, memories that would prove difficult to uproot. In Haunted by Atrocity, Benjamin G. Cloyd deftly analyzes how Americans have remembered the military prisons of the Civil War from the war itself to the present, making a strong case for the continued importance of the great conflict in contemporary America. Throughout Reconstruction and well into the twentieth century, Cloyd shows, competing sectional memories of the prisons prolonged the process of national reconciliation. Events such as the trial and execution of CSA Captain Henry Wirz—commander of the notorious Andersonville prison—along with political campaigns, the publication of prison memoirs, and even the construction of monuments to the prison dead all revived the painful accusations of deliberate cruelty. As northerners, white southerners, and African Americans contested the meaning of the war, these divisive memories tore at the scars of the conflict and ensured that the subject of Civil War prisons remained controversial. By the 1920s, the death of the Civil War generation removed much of the emotional connection to the war, and the devastation of the first two world wars provided new contexts in which to reassess the meaning of atrocity. As a result, Cloyd explains, a more objective opinion of Civil War prisons emerged—one that condemned both the Union and the Confederacy for their callous handling of captives while it deemed the mistreatment of prisoners an inevitable consequence of modern war. But, Cloyd argues, these seductive arguments also deflected a closer examination of the precise responsibility for the tragedy of Civil War prisons and allowed Americans to believe in a comforting but ahistorical memory of the controversy. Both the recasting of the town of Andersonville as a Civil War village in the 1970s and the 1998 opening of the National Prisoner of War Museum at Andersonville National Historic Site reveal the continued American preference for myth over history—a preference, Cloyd asserts, that inhibits a candid assessment of the evils committed during the Civil War. The first study of Civil War memory to focus exclusively on the military prison camps, Haunted by Atrocity offers a cautionary tale of how Americans, for generations, have unconsciously constructed their recollections of painful events in ways that protect cherished ideals of myth, meaning, identity, and, ultimately, a deeply rooted faith in American exceptionalism.

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Jim Crow's Counterculture

The Blues and Black Southerners, 1890-1945

R. A. Lawson

In the late nineteenth century, black musicians in the lower Mississippi Valley, chafing under the social, legal, and economic restrictions of Jim Crow, responded with a new musical form—the blues. In Jim Crow’s Counterculture, R. A. Lawson offers a cultural history of blues musicians in the segregation era, explaining how by both accommodating and resisting Jim Crow life, blues musicians created a counterculture to incubate and nurture ideas of black individuality and citizenship. These individuals, Lawson shows, collectively demonstrate the African American struggle during the early twentieth century. Derived from the music of the black working class and popularized by commercially successful songwriter W. C. Handy, early blues provided a counterpoint to white supremacy by focusing on an anti-work ethic that promoted a culture of individual escapism—even hedonism—and by celebrating the very culture of sex, drugs, and violence that whites feared. According to Lawson, blues musicians such as Charley Patton and Muddy Waters drew on traditions of southern black music, including call and response forms, but they didn’t merely sing of a folk past. Instead, musicians saw blues as a way out of economic subservience. Lawson chronicles the major historical developments that changed the Jim Crow South and thus the attitudes of the working-class blacks who labored in that society. The Great Migration, the Great Depression and New Deal, and two World Wars, he explains, shaped a new consciousness among southern blacks as they moved north, fought overseas, and gained better-paid employment. The “me”-centered mentality of the early blues musicians increasingly became “we”-centered as these musicians sought to enter mainstream American life by promoting hard work and patriotism. Originally drawing the attention of only a few folklorists and music promoters, popular black musicians in the 1940s such as Huddie Ledbetter and Big Bill Broonzy played music that increasingly reached across racial lines, and in the process gained what segregationists had attempted to deny them: the identity of American citizenship. By uncovering the stories of artists who expressed much in their music but left little record in traditional historical sources, Jim Crow’s Counterculture offers a fresh perspective on the historical experiences of black Americans and provides a new understanding of the blues: a shared music that offered a message of personal freedom to repressed citizens.

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Maintaining Segregation

Children and Racial Instruction in the South, 1920-1955

LeeAnn G. Reynolds

In Maintaining Segregation, LeeAnn G. Reynolds explores how black and white children in the early twentieth-century South learned about segregation in their homes, schools, and churches. As public lynchings and other displays of racial violence declined in the 1920s, a culture of silence developed around segregation, serving to forestall, absorb, and deflect individual challenges to the racial hierarchy. The cumulative effect of the racial instruction southern children received, prior to highly publicized news such as the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the Montgomery bus boycott, perpetuated segregation by discouraging discussion or critical examination.

As the system of segregation evolved throughout the early twentieth century, generations of southerners came of age having little or no knowledge of life without institutionalized segregation. Reynolds examines the motives and approaches of white and black parents to racial instruction in the home and how their methods reinforced the status quo. Whereas white families sought to preserve the legal system of segregation and their place within it, black families faced the more complicated task of ensuring the safety of their children in a racist society without sacrificing their sense of self-worth. Schools and churches functioned as secondary sites for racial conditioning, and Reynolds traces the ways in which these institutions alternately challenged and encouraged the marginalization of black Americans both within society and the historical narrative.

In order for subsequent generations to imagine and embrace the sort of racial equality championed by the civil rights movement, they had to overcome preconceived notions of race instilled since childhood. Ultimately, Reynolds’s work reveals that the social change that occurred due to the civil rights movement can only be fully understood within the context of the segregation imposed upon children by southern institutions throughout much of the early twentieth century.

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New Orleans on Parade

Tourism and the Transformation of the Crescent City

J. Mark Souther

New Orleans on Parade tells the story of the Big Easy in the twentieth century. In this urban biography, J. Mark Souther explores the Crescent City's architecture, music, food and alcohol, folklore and spiritualism, Mardi Gras festivities, and illicit sex commerce in revealing how New Orleans became a city that parades itself to visitors and residents alike.

Stagnant between the Civil War and World War II -- a period of great expansion nationally -- New Orleans unintentionally preserved its distinctive physical appearance and culture. Though business, civic, and government leaders tried to pursue conventional modernization in the 1940s, competition from other Sunbelt cities as well as a national economic shift from production to consumption gradually led them to seize on tourism as the growth engine for future prosperity, giving rise to a veritable gumbo of sensory attractions. A trend in historic preservation and the influence of outsiders helped fan this newfound identity, and the city's residents learned to embrace rather than disdain their past.

A growing reliance on the tourist trade fundamentally affected social relations in New Orleans. African Americans were cast as actors who shaped the culture that made tourism possible while at the same time they were exploited by the local power structure. As black leaders' influence increased, the white elite attempted to keep its traditions -- including racial inequality -- intact, and race and class issues often lay at the heart of controversies over progress. Once the most tolerant diverse city in the South and the nation, New Orleans came to lag behind the rest of the country in pursuing racial equity.

Souther traces the ascendancy of tourism in New Orleans through the final decades of the twentieth century and beyond, examining the 1984 World's Fair, the collapse of Louisiana's oil industry in the eighties, and the devastating blow dealt by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Narrated in a lively style and resting on a bedrock of research, New Orleans on Parade is a landmark book that allows readers to fully understand the image-making of the Big Easy.

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The Ongoing Burden of Southern History

Politics and Identity in the Twenty-First-Century South

edited by Angie Maxwell, Todd Shields, and Jeannie Whayne

More than fifty years after its initial publication, C. Vann Woodward’s landmark work, The Burden of Southern History, remains an essential text on the southern past. Today, a “southern burden” still exists, but its shape and impact on southerners and the world varies dramatically from the one envisioned by Woodward. Recasting Woodward’s ideas on the contemporary South, the contributors to The Ongoing Burden of Southern History highlight the relevance of his scholarship for the twenty-first-century reader and student. This interdisciplinary retrospective tackles questions of equality, white southern identity, the political legacy of Reconstruction, the heritage of Populism, and the place of the South within the nation, along with many others. From Woodward’s essays on populism and irony, historians find new insight into the burgeoning Tea Party, while they also shed light on the contemporary legacy of the redeemer Democrats. Using up-to-date election data, scholars locate a “shrinking” southern identity and point to the accomplishments of the recent influx of African American voters and political candidates. This penetrating analysis reinterprets Woodward’s classic for a new generation of readers interested in the modern South. Contributors: Josephine A. V. Allen, Charles S. Bullock III, James C. Cobb, Donald R. Deskins Jr., Leigh Anne Duck, Angie Maxwell, Robert C. McMath, Wayne Parent, Sherman C. Puckett, Todd Shields, Hanes Walton Jr., Jeannie Whayne, Patrick G. Williams.

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Race and Education in North Carolina

From Segregation to Desegregation

John E. Batchelor

The separation of white and black schools remained largely unquestioned and unchallenged in North Carolina for the first half of the twentieth century, yet by the end of the 1970s, the Tar Heel State operated the most thoroughly desegregated school system in the nation. In Race and Education in North Carolina, John E. Batchelor, a former North Carolina school superintendent, offers a robust analysis of this sea change and the initiatives that comprised the gradual, and often reluctant, desegregation of the state’s public schools.

In a state known for relative racial moderation, North Carolina government officials generally steered clear of fiery rhetorical rejections of Brown v. Board of Education, in contrast to the position of leaders in most other parts of the South. Instead, they played for time, staving off influential legislators who wanted to close public schools and provide vouchers to support segregated private schools, instituting policies that would admit a few black students into white schools, and continuing to sanction segregation throughout most of the public education system. Litigation—primarily initiated by the NAACP—and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 created stronger mandates for progress and forced government officials to accelerate the pace of desegregation. Batchelor sheds light on the way local school districts pursued this goal while community leaders, school board members, administrators, and teachers struggled to balance new policy demands with deeply entrenched racial prejudice and widespread support for continued segregation.

Drawing from case law, newspapers, interviews with policy makers, civil rights leaders, and attorneys involved in school desegregation, as well as previously unused archival material, Race and Education in North Carolina presents a richly textured history of the legal and political factors that informed, obstructed, and finally cleared the way for desegregation in the North Carolina public education system.

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