- Other Souths: Diversity and Difference in the U.S. South, Reconstruction to the Present
In a collection that spans from Reconstruction to the beginning of this century, Other Souths presents some of the most important recent articles on the South that employ gender, race, class, and sexuality as intertwined categories of analysis. These previously published essays emerge together as a useful teaching text and important intellectual piece. The collection stretches southern history beyond traditional places, showing, for example, the extent to which events in Florida are critical to our understanding of the civil rights movement, the Cold War, and environmental policy. It also reveals how historical events affected everyday people and how everyday people contested and conformed to legislation in complicated and diverse ways. From the public political acts of low-country freedwomen to the discovery of the real John Henry, the interrogation of suspected lesbian educators, and the Latinization of the southern landscape, it uncovers the multiple layers of southern politics, rendering obsolete the divide between public and private or between grassroots politics and more formal electoral politics. In the process, the collection offers the possibilities of comparing big questions across time and place.
Using legal cases, oral histories, literary texts, folk music, personal testimony, and government files, Other Souths depicts a region of politically organized and politically active people. Common to many of the essays is an examination of how a vast array of southerners negotiated [End Page 459] and contested laws and customs that reached into the most intimate personal and local spaces. These laws affected the food that people grew and ate, the control that they had over their bodies, and even where they chose to live, swim, and golf. Kevin Kruse locates the rise of the New Right in Atlanta’s urban city center where black and white residents argued over access to public recreational space. In essays by Jeanette Keith, Jennifer Brooks, and Alex Macaulay, southern military men, often seen as exemplars of the martial tradition, opposed the draft in World War I, formed both the front lines of the civil rights movement and of white resistance, and participated in the antiwar movement in the late 1960s and 1970s. Their political activism rejects simple categorization.
Debates about working-class female sexuality and eugenics in interwar North Carolina, racial purity in Virginia, homophobic Cold War policy, and grassroots civil rights organizing in Florida, demonstrate that sexuality and sexual violence are not subtexts of political movements but primary texts for political discourses. In Danielle McGuire’s essay, the rape of a black female collegian served as a catalyst for student organizing and participation in the civil rights movement. In LuAnn Jones’ essay, white rural women and black rural families utilized itinerant merchants and traveling salesmen to access a consumer culture and, more importantly, to avoid the gender, racial, and sexual hierarchies that pervaded the local general store and broader southern culture. In each of these cases, “southern custom” spurred resistance, not conformity or obedience.
In the end, this collection provides intellectual fodder for several new and old questions: How do politics work in local contexts? How have sex and sexuality shaped southern and American politics? Why do regional boundaries matter? How have gender ideologies shaped political responses of various southerners? These questions are addressed across the entire post-Civil War era. The complex region that Other Souths creates offers a cacophony of stories and voices that breed questions and reject easy binary categories. The practice of pluralizing the South may well be a more fruitful intellectual path than one that leaves the regional category intact but pronounces its demise.