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172CIVIL WAR HISTORY These agents frequently incurred the hostility of local whites determined to preserve their labor force. Still other Southern blacks were swayed by the hopes and dreams (often more ephemeral than real) of exodus to Kansas or migration to Liberia. As splendid as this study is, several troublesome matters intrude. By contending that political and social freedoms were effectively denied through disfranchisement and segregation while the persistent possibility of migration ensured a significant degree of freedom, Cohen has disproportionately emphasized mobility as representative of freedom among Southern blacks. He has created something of a false dichotomy by suggesting that mobility serves as a major element of freedom while the absence of mobility does not. Just how important was (and is) mobility as a full measure of freedom and autonomy? Lacking sufficient and accurate quantifiable data, Cohen cannot fully document the numbers of people who moved, or the precise reasons that impelled a person or family to move at any given time. What do we know of those who showed little or no inclination to migrate? What explains their unwillingness to migrate? Was it self-imposed or not? For example, what of the relatively small numbers of black men and women who by sheer persistence acquired property and/or wealth and thus achieved modest economic standing? Was the possibility of migration important to them as an element of freedom? Did the opportunity to migrate (or did economic status, for that matter) free Southern blacks to vote, to circumvent segregation, or to feel secure when lynch mobs came calling? Fifty years after emancipation—the possibilities of migration notwithstanding—most African Americans remained in a state of abject dependency, denied freedoms routinely enjoyed by white Americans. These are difficult issues that merit further exploration and explanation. But they do not seriously detract from or obscure Cohen's illuminating and fine account. It is a major contribution to our understanding of life and society in the post-Civil War South. William C. Hine South Carolina State University Common Whites: Class and Culture in Antebellum North Carolina. By Bill Cecil-Fronsman. (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1992. Pp. 274. $34.00.) Antebellum common whites have not been neglected, but neither have they been popular objects of the historian's craft. Beginning with the seminal work of Frank and Harriet Owsley during the 1940s and continuing into the era of excellent local studies by Steven Hahn, Robert Kenzer, Orville V. Burton, and others, the world of the plain folk has unfolded like a magnificent quilt stored for decades, then discovered and displayed in all its glory. Cecil-Fronsman's book is the best of the genre. It has three major strengths BOOK REVIEWS173 over most earlier works. Though well grounded in the new social history, it uses statistics with restraint so as not to clutter the narrative. Also, by focusing on an entire state, he avoids the question of representativeness of a single county or group of counties. Moreover, he writes narrative history with grace and skill. His thesis is simple. Eugene Genovese was generally mistaken in his notion of planter hegemony. Common whites regularly confronted planters in politics and religion. Class conflict resulted, though it was contained within boundaries and restrained by white racial solidarity. Common whites developed a rich culture of their own. Wealth was not a standard for assessing human worth. They also developed distinctive racial attitudes, folklore and music, tightly knit communities, and evangelical notions of piety and standards for judging personal worth. As with all studies of common whites, Cecil-Fronsman has difficulty separating poor whites and yeomen. Though he concedes there were differences, he is uncertain what they were and so ignores them, emphasizing correctly that much blurring of class lines occurred, and that the two levels of common white culture had more in common than they did differences. Common whites asserted their independence, racial superiority, and selfworth , an equality denied them by North Carolina's gentry. Sometimes they boldly resisted the elite, as in Cary's and Culpeper's rebellions and the Regulator Movement. Although racism united whites of all classes and was often used by politicians to appeal to common whites, the lower classes sometimes transcended...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 172-173
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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