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114Southern Cultures American pattern with global resonances. To me, as a male southerner, Romance is provocative in tracing the genesis of taken-for-granted, yet demeaning and painful stereotypes, with which we still live. Bittersweet Legacy: The Black and White "Better Classes" in Charlotte, 1850-1910. By Janette Thomas Greenwood. University of North Carolina Press, 1994. 318 pp. Cloth, $45.00. Reviewed by Frye Gaillard, former southern editor at the Charlotte Observer and writer in residence at Queens College in Charlotte. His recent works include The Dream Long Deferred and Lessons From the Big House: One Family's Passage Through the History of the South. The history of race relations in the South has probably never seen a more bitter chapter than the period near the end of the nineteenth century when the promise of full freedom was snatched away from a generation that had worked so hard to earn it. Janette Thomas Greenwood tells that story in heartbreaking detail in this study of the New South city of Charlotte. Her broad themes may be familiar, but her particular understandings are not. They are provocative and fresh, a bittersweet account of lost possibilities that lay dormant in the South for more than sixty years. Greenwood is intrigued by the black "better class"—young men and women, most of them born in the final years of slavery and educated in the freedmen's schools. They came of age in the 1880s, a generation full of hope, believing in themselves and believing also in the good will and fairness of the white people around them. "Just give us time," wrote W. C. Smith, the editor of a black newspaper in Charlotte, "and we will show the world that the Negro is the equal of anyone." Smith and many other young leaders in Charlotte were convinced that if the coming generations of African Americans would embrace education and economic advancement, press steadily for their full civil rights, and adhere to the values of Christianity and temperance, they could succeed. "Get knowledge ," Smith wrote. "Get money. Get land. Use these things properly taking Christ as our guide, and all will be well." For a while their experiences sustained that faith. Charlotte at the end of the Civil War was a city of opportunity. Thanks primarily to railroads and mills, it had grown from an antebellum town of barely 1,000 residents to a city of 7,000 in 1880 and more than 18,000 by the turn of the century. Blacks were caught in the swirl of possibility, determined from the time of emancipation to establish themselves as full-fledged citizens. They staged sit-ins in the 1860s, began to build their own churches and schools, and in the 187Os carved their niche in the turbulent world of Reconstruction politics. A colorful politician , John T. Schenck, led them in those efforts. Born a slave in 1824, Schenck taught himself to read and write and bought his own freedom with money he had earned as a carpenter . He fought for the Union army in the war, and when the fighting was over, he moved to Charlotte, where he opened a saloon and became a key figure in the Republican party. He was drawn instinctively to the ideals of Lincoln and the Republican slogan in Mecklenburg County: "Union, Liberty, Equality." He was also a shrewd and hard-headed man, comfortable in the bare-knuckled world of politics, where he built alliances across racial lines and battled for his share of the political spoils. Reviews115 The black "better class"—a generation slightly younger than Schenck, with more formal schooling and a loftier understanding of the nature of progress—was put off by his style and never quite felt at home in his arena. They shared, however, his belief in the possibility of working with whites, and early in the decade of the 1880s they eagerly embraced an intenacial coalition to support the great crusade for prohibition. It was a divisive issue in the black community. With whiskey off limits in the days of slavery, the right to drink had symbolic as well as recreational importance, and the masses of blacks followed saloonkeeper Schenck, rather than the ministers...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 114-115
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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