- The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 24 Race ed. by Charles Regan Wilson, Thomas Holt, and Laurie Green
This volume of the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture contains an impressive collection of entries dealing with race in the South from a number of different angles. Rather than only concentrating on the divisions created by racist white policies dealing with African Americans from the colonial period through the present, it also explores the experiences that Native Americans, Asians, Jews, Latinos, and other ethnicities have had in a region of both dynamic change and an often crippling adherence to an unequal racialized past. Though many of these entries are short, they are extraordinarily well-written and reflect the most recent scholarship. The book begins with an introduction written by the volume editors, Thomas Holt and Laurie Green. Even for those who have spent their careers studying race in the South, this essay is worth reading as it sets up the multiracial nature of the South and of this volume, particularly noting that race, even in the American South, is a category that is and always has been something that is as malleable as politics and economics.
The only flaw in this book is figuring out how to use it. These entries are far deeper and of much better quality than most encyclopedias, meaning treating this as a reference book is a waste of the scholarship within. On the other hand, these entries are probably [End Page 276] too short and varied to consider for usage as a text in a specialized classroom. Given that most of the entries here are just that, they only offer a short introduction to larger historical issues, meaning that scholars of the region are not likely to find much within their own particular subfields in the book. At the same time, though, several of the entries in this text offer challenging new ways to think about the region. In particular, Moon-Ho Jung’s essay “Pacific Worlds and the South” points out that the South is where the history of Asian Americans first began, as Filipinos bound into labor by the Spanish to work on ships fled to Spanish Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parrish and set up a community.
This and other entries make it clear that those who could not be easily categorized as black or white were able to find spaces within the South to construct lives even though, as Leslie Bow’s essay points out, “as a metaphor, ‘the color line’ does not allow for a middle space”(25). Verónica Martínez Matsuda sets up the struggle that Latinos and others who travelled to the South as workers have had in a region that still wants and needs labor but refuses to think of the actual laborers as equals.
Several other essays offer insightful discussions of broad issues in succinct form. Susan Eva O’Donovan is able to trace the evolution of the Southern economy in less than twelve pages in such a way that the reader is not left thinking that it was a simple overview, but rather a fairly complex look at the relationship between race and economics from the colonial period through the twentieth century. It is probably the best concise discussion of this topic available in print.
In the era of online, crowd-sourced information, it is tempting to view all encyclopedias as a resource for the lazy and uninformed, but that would be a mistake in this case. The editors of this volume have assembled a multifaceted discussion of race by leading scholars. While it might not suit individualized specialties, it will offer a more inclusive look at race in the region, which could inspire new avenues of scholarly pursuit. [End Page 277]