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Modern South

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Modern South

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Alabama in the Twentieth Century

Written by Wayne Flynt

An authoritative popular history that places the state in regional and national context.

Alabama is a state full of contrasts. On the one hand, it has elected the lowest number of women to the state legislature of any state in the union; yet according to historians it produced two of the ten most important American women of the 20th century—Helen Keller and Rosa Parks. Its people are fanatically devoted to conservative religious values; yet they openly idolize tarnished football programs as the source of their heroes. Citizens who are puzzled by Alabama's maddening resistance to change or its incredibly strong sense of tradition and community will find important clues and new understanding within these pages.

Written by passionate Alabamian and accomplished historian Wayne Flynt, Alabama in the Twentieth Century offers supporting arguments for both detractors and admirers of the state. A native son who has lived, loved, taught, debated, and grieved within the state for 60 of the 100 years described, the author does not flinch from pointing out Alabama's failures, such as the woeful yoke of a 1901 state constitution, the oldest one in the nation; neither is he restrained in calling attention to the state's triumphs against great odds, such as its phenomenal number of military heroes and gifted athletes, its dazzling array of writers, folk artists, and musicians, or its haunting physical beauty despite decades of abuse.

Chapters are organized by topic—politics, the economy, education, African Americans, women, the military, sport, religion, literature, art, journalism—rather than chronologically, so the reader can digest the whole sweep of the century on a particular subject. Flynt’s writing style is engaging, descriptive, free of clutter, yet based on sound scholarship. This book offers teachers and readers alike the vast range and complexity of Alabama's triumphs and low points in a defining century.

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Before Brown

Civil Rights and White Backlash in the Modern South

Before Brown details the ferment in civil rights that took place across the South before the momentous Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954. This collection refutes the notion that the movement began with the Supreme Court decision, and suggests, rather, that the movement originated in the 1930s and earlier, spurred by the Great Depression and, later, World War II—events that would radically shape the course of politics in the South and the nation into the next century.

This work explores the growth of the movement through its various manifestations—the activities of politicians, civil rights leaders, religious figures, labor unionists, and grass-roots activists—throughout the 1940s and 1950s. It discusses the critical leadership roles played by women and offers a new perspective on the relationship between the NAACP and the Communist Party.

Before Brown shows clearly that, as the drive toward racial equality advanced and national political attitudes shifted, the validity of white supremacy came increasingly into question. Institutionalized racism in the South had always offered white citizens material advantages by preserving their economic superiority and making them feel part of a privileged class. When these rewards were threatened by the civil rights movement, a white backlash occurred.

"A valuable and timely volume . . . particularly welcome for the emphasis it places on the churches, on white women, and on returning black and white veterans, groups whose postwar role has been too long ignored."

—Tony Badger, author of The New Deal: The Depression Years, 1933-1940 and editor of, with Brian Ward, The Making of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement

Glenn Feldman is Associate Professor of Business in the Center for Labor Education and Research at The University of Alabama at Birmingham and author of Politics, Society, and the Klan in Alabama, 1915-1949. Patricia Sullivan is Associate Professor of History at the University of South Carolina and author of Days of Hope: Race and Democracy in the New Deal Era.

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Far East, Down South

Asians in the American South

Raymond A. Mohl, John E. Van Sant, Chizuru Saeki

In sharp contrast to the “melting pot” reputation of the United States, the American South—with its history of slavery, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement—has been perceived in stark and simplistic demographic terms. In Far East, Down South, editors Raymond A. Mohl, John E. Van Sant, and Chizuru Saeki provide a collection of essential essays that restores and explores an overlooked part of the South’s story—that of Asian immigration to the region.
 
These essays form a comprehensive overview of key episodes and issues in the history of Asian immigrants to the South. During Reconstruction, southern entrepreneurs experimented with the replacement of slave labor with Chinese workers. As in the West, Chinese laborers played a role in the development of railroads. Japanese farmers also played a more widespread role than is usually believed. Filipino sailors recruited by the US Navy in the early decades of the twentieth century often settled with their families in the vicinity of naval ports such as Corpus Christi, Biloxi, and Pensacola. Internment camps brought Japanese Americans to Arkansas. Marriages between American servicemen and Japanese, Korean, Filipina, Vietnamese, and nationals in other theaters of war created many thousands of blended families in the South. In recent decades, the South is the destination of internal immigration as Asian Americans spread out from immigrant enclaves in West Coast and Northeast urban areas.
 
Taken together, the book’s essays document numerous fascinating themes: the historic presence of Asians in the South dating back to the mid-nineteenth century; the sources of numerous waves of contemporary Asian immigration to the South; and the steady spread of Asians out from the coastal port cities. Far East, Down South adds a vital new dimension to popular understanding of southern history.

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The Great Melding

War, the Dixiecrat Rebellion, and the Southern Model for America's New Conservatism

Audacious in its scope, subtle in its analysis, and persuasive in its arguments, The Great Melding is the second book in Glenn Feldman’ s magisterial recounting of the South’ s transformation from a Reconstruction-era citadel of Democratic Party inertia to a cauldron of GOP agitation. In this pioneering study, Feldman shows how the transitional years after World War II, the Dixiecrat episode, and the early 1950s formed a pivotal sequence of events that altered America’ s political landscape in profound, fundamental, and unexpected ways.
 
Feldman’ s landmark work The Irony of the Solid South dismantled the myth of the New Deal consensus, proving it to be only a fleeting alliance of fissiparous factions; The Great Melding further examines how the South broke away from that consensus. Exploring issues of race and white supremacy, Feldman documents and explains the roles of economics, religion, and emotive appeals to patriotism in southern voting patterns. His probing and original analysis includes a discussion of the limits of southern liberalism and a fresh examination of the Dixiecrat Revolt of 1948.
 
Feldman convincingly argues that the Dixiecrats— often dismissed as a transitory footnote in American politics— served as a template for the modern conservative movement. Now a predictable Republican stronghold, Alabama at the time was viewed by national political strategists as a battleground and bellwether. Masterfully synthesizing a vast range of sources, Feldman shows that Alabama was then one of the few states where voters made unpredictable choices between the competing ideologies of the Democrats, Republicans, and Dixiecrats.
 
Writing in his lively and provocative style, Feldman demonstrates that the events he recounts in Alabama between 1942 and Dwight Eisenhower’ s 1952 election encapsulate a rare moment of fluidity in American politics, one in which the New Deal consensus shattered and the Democratic and Republican parties fought off a third-party revolt only to find themselves irrevocably altered by their success. The Great Melding will fascinate historians, political scientists, political strategists, and readers of political nonfiction.

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Here I Stand

The Life and Legacy of John Beecher

Angela J. Smith

Biography of a forgotten poet who used his name and influence to speak up for those on the margins of society.

Few surnames resonate in American history more than Beecher. The family’s abolitionist ministers, educators, and writers are central figures in the historical narrative of the United States. The Beechers’ influence was greatest in the nineteenth century, but the family story continued—albeit with less public attention—with a descendant who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, during the early twentieth century.
 
John Beecher (1904–1980) never had the public prominence of his famous ancestors, but as a poet, professor, sociologist, New Deal administrator, journalist, and civil rights activist, he spent his life fighting for the voiceless and oppressed with a distinct moral sensibility that reflected his self-identification as the twentieth-century torchbearer for his famous family. While John Beecher had many vocations in his lifetime, he always considered himself a poet and a teacher. Some critics have compared the populist elements of Beecher’s poetry to the work of Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg, but his writing never gained a broad audience or critical acclaim during his lifetime.
 
In Here I Stand: The Life and Legacy of John Beecher, Angela J. Smith examines Beecher’s writing and activism and places them in the broader context of American culture at pivotal points in the twentieth century. Employing his extensive letters, articles, unpublished poetry and prose, and audio interviews in addition to his numerous published books, Smith uncovers a record of public concerns in American history ranging from the plight of workers in 1920s steel mills to sharecroppers’ struggles during the Depression to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

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History and Hope in the Heart of Dixie

Scholarship, Activism, and Wayne Flynt in the Modern South

Edited by Gordon E. Harvey, Richard D. Starnes and Glenn Feldman

Social and political history of the modern South.
 
This collection of essays on the social and political history of the modern South consider the region’s poor, racial mores and race relations, economic opportunity, Protestant activism, political coalitions and interest groups, social justice, and progressive reform.
History and Hope in the Heart of Dixie illuminates the dual role of historian and public advocate in modern America. In a time when the nation’s eyes have been focused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita onto the vulnerability and dire condition of poor people in the South, the applicability of research, teaching, and activism for this voiceless element seems all the more relevant.
 
Responding to the example of Wayne Flynt, whose fierce devotion to his state of Alabama and its region has not blinded his recognition of the inequities and despair that define southern life for so many, the scholars assembled in this work present contributions to the themes Flynt so passionately explored in his own work. Two seasoned observers of southern history and culture—John Shelton Reed and Dan T. Carter—offer assessments of Flynt’s influence on the history profession as a whole and on the region of the South in particular.
 

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In the Shadow of Hitler

Alabama's Jews, the Second World War, and the Holocaust

In the Shadow of Hitler is the first comprehensive state study of how southern Jews—and non-Jews—dealt with the coming of the Good War and the Nazi persecution of European Jews.

In 1982, the Orthodox congregation of Ahavas Chesed in Mobile, Alabama, reconsecrated a Torah scroll from the Altneuschule in Prague, Czechoslovakia, that had been seized by the Nazis in the midst of the Holocaust. The Nazis, over the course of their occupation of Czechoslovakia, confiscated from Jewish communities throughout Bohemia and Moravia 1,564 Torahs, among numerous other Judaic ceremonial objects. The Nazis had the Torahs cataloged and planned to exhibit them after the war in a museum to the extinct Jewish race. Ahavas Chesed acquired the Altneuschule scroll from the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust to honor the members of those communities who had perished in the camps.

Dan J. Puckett’s In the Shadow of Hitler examines the Jews of Alabama and shows that they were fully aware of events that affected Jews both nationally and internationally. Although Alabama’s Jewish community was divided between Central and Eastern European and Sephardic backgrounds and cultures, and the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox traditions, the Nazi persecution of the Jews in Europe forced this disparate Jewish community to put aside its differences and work together to aid and save European Jewry. In doing so, Alabama’s Jews not only effectively lobbied influential politicians on the local, state, and national level, and swayed the opinions of newspaper editors, Christian groups, and the general public, but their cooperation also built bridges that spanned the cultural and religious divides within their own community.

In the Shadow of Hitler illustrates how this intracommunity cooperation, the impact of the war and the murder of six million European Jews, and the establishment of the state of Israel built the foundation for closer cultural and religious cooperation in Alabama in the decades that followed.

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Stand Up for Alabama

Governor George Wallace

Jeffrey Frederick

Whereas other studies have focused on George Wallace’s career as a national figure, Stand Up for Alabama provides a detailed, comprehensive, and analytical study of Wallace’s political life that emphasizes his activities and their impact within the state of Alabama. Jeff Frederick answers two fundamental questions: What was George Wallace’s impact on the state of Alabama? Why did Alabamians continue to embrace him over a twenty-five year period? Using a variety of sources to document the state’s performance in areas including mental health, education, conservation, prisons, and industrial development, Frederick answers question number one. He cites comparisons between Alabama and both peer states in the South and national averages. Wallace’s policies improved the state, but only in relation to Alabama’s past, not in relation to peer states in the region or national averages. As a result, energy was expended but little progress was made.
 
To answer the second question, Frederick uses the words of Alabamians themselves through oral history, correspondence, letters to the editor, and other sources. Alabamians, white and eventually black, supported Wallace because race was but one of his appeals. Stand Up for Alabama shows that Wallace connected to Alabamians at a gut level, reminding them of their history and memory, championing their causes on the stump, and soothing their concerns about their place in the region and the nation.
 
Jeff Frederick examines the development of policy during the Wallace administrations and documents relationships with his constituents in ways that go beyond racial politics. He also analyzes the connections between Wallace’s career and Alabamians’ understanding of their history, sense of morality, and class system. “Stand up for Alabama” was the governor’s campaign slogan.

 

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This Bright Light of Ours

Stories from the Voting Rights Fight

This Bright Light of Ours offers a tightly focused insider’s view of the community-based activism that was the heart of the civil rights movement. A celebration of grassroots heroes, this book details through first-person accounts the contributions of ordinary people who formed  the nonviolent army that won the fight for voting rights.

Combining memoir and oral history, Maria Gitin fills a vital gap in civil rights history by focusing on the neglected Freedom Summer of 1965 when hundreds of college students joined forces with local black leaders to register thousands of new black voters in the rural South. Gitin was an idealistic nineteen-year-old college freshman from a small farming community north of San Francisco who felt called to action when she saw televised images of brutal attacks on peaceful demonstrators during Bloody Sunday, in Selma, Alabama.

Atypical among white civil rights volunteers, Gitin came from a rural low-income family. She raised funds to attend an intensive orientation in Atlanta featuring now-legendary civil rights leaders. Her detailed letters include the first narrative account of this orientation and the only in-depth field report from a teenage Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) project participant.

Gitin details the dangerous life of civil rights activists in Wilcox County, Alabama, where she was assigned. She tells of threats and arrests, but also of forming deep friendships and of falling in love. More than four decades later, Gitin returned to Wilcox County to revisit the people and places that she could never forget and to discover their views of the “outside agitators” who had come to their community. Through conversational interviews with more than fifty Wilcox County residents and former civil rights workers, she has created a channel for the voices of these unheralded heroes who formed the backbone of the civil rights movement.

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