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ESSAY "An Effort Toward Good Will and Good Wishes" FolkStudies andHoward Odum's ChangingViewofRace by Lynn Moss Sanders ? the 1920s southern sociologists Howard Odum and Guy Johnson saw folklore and race-relations studies as ways to practice Christian good will toward their fellow human beings, but their "good wishes" did not preclude stereotyping the subjects oftheir research. A paragraph from the opening chapter oftheir first collection of African American folk songs, The Negro and His Songs, clearly illustrates the authors' well-meaning but essentially racist approach to their material : This volume may be said also to be an effort toward good will and good wishes . From this viewpoint the objective presentation has its advantages. If the musical nature and potential of the race can be emphasized again and again; if the good nature, the resourcefulness and adaptability of the Negro may be studied from varying viewpoints; ifthe Negro's skill and art may be presented in this way; if his hypocrisy and two-faced survival mechanisms may be suggested along with his good manners, his diplomacy, his artistic expression and rare harmony, then added values may be found in this volume.1 Like other southern intellectuals of their day, Odum and Johnson eventually became more liberal in their views on race. For Odum, it would take two important friendships to alter his racist assumptions, one that developed from his evolving working relationship withJohnson, his younger, more liberal colleague, the other with an extraordinary black informant,John Wesley "Left Wing" Gordon. Students of southern intellectual history know Howard Odum for his role in shaping and understanding die New South. Although Odum's theory of regionalism has become passé, his contributions to the modernization ofthe South are well documented by biographer Wayne Brazil, sociologistJohn Shelton Reed, historian George Tindall, student and colleague Rupert Vance, and, most recendy, Michael Milligan, who discusses Odum's concept of the folk. Besides publishing over twenty-five books and more than one hundred articles of his own, among them his monumental work Southern Regions ofthe UnitedStates, Odum founded and 47 chaired the first department of sociology at die Universit är Oduftt,ty of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.2 At the university ;./he created the Institute for Research in Social Science, •s o founded the journal SodaiForces, and oversaw the publicafolklove chcMOed tion by the University ofNorth Carolina Press ofa num7 rjri · ber ofground-breaking sociological studies of the South, J ' among them works by Jesse Steiner and Roy Brown on ........................ chain gangs, Arthur Raper on lynching, and Jennings Rhyne on mill workers.3 Students of American musical history know Odum as one of the first collectors of African American blues and work songs, which he published in two volumes, The Negro andHis Songs and Negro Workaday Songs. D. K. Wilgus, author oíAngloAmerican Folksong Scholarship Since 1898, praises Odum for his thorough analysis ofAfrican American song and,his attention to the function of folk song.4 Milligan and others conclude tiiat Odum's central academic legacy "lies in the precious 'raw materials' of Negro folk life he was able to salvage." However, for folklorists, historians, and students of southern literature, Odum's folklore studies offer insights into the mind ofa southern white intellectual, one who was seen by his contemporaries as a definite liberal but who seems quite conservative by today's standards. Odum's personal and scholarly history clearly reveals a gradual but decided move from racism to tolerance and, finally, to appreciation of the contributions of African American folk culture to American culture. Although the scientific shift from heredity to environment as the determining factor in racial identity influenced Odum, the liberalizing of Odum's views on race occurred because he undertook folklore studies of African American culture; in other words, studying the folklore changed the folklorist.' Howard Washington Odum was born in Bethlehem, Georgia, in 1884, and as with other turn-of-the-century southern liberals, his ideas on race were formed by a synthesis ofhis religious background and his education. He received a bachelor of arts in classics from Emory University in 1904 and then began graduate work in classics at the University of Mississippi. Odum's experiences in Mississippi profoundly influenced...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 47-66
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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