- Savannah in the New South: From the Civil War to the Twenty-First Century by Walter J. Fraser
In his final work before his passing in 2017, Walter J. Fraser Jr., late of Georgia Southern University, sealed his study of Savannah's history by bringing it into the present century. Savannah in the New South: From the Civil War to the Twenty-First Century continues where Savannah in the Old South (Athens, Ga., 2003) ended. For the sake of continuity, however, Fraser reviews Savannah's history from its colonial beginnings to the evacuation of the city by Confederate forces in December 1864. Fraser turns to new material with the surrender of the city to General William T. Sherman's forces and details Savannah's Union occupation and the tug-of-war of Reconstruction. He devotes a chapter to the period of "Redemption" and launches into the New South period—as characterized by Henry W. Grady—with an account of the murder of a member of Savannah's German immigrant community by a group of African American men in 1892, thereby defining the period by its racial and ethnic dynamics, complete with the specter of lynching. The author secondarily focuses on Democratic machine politics and the anxieties inherent to a modernizing economy as Savannah moved into the twentieth century.
From there, Fraser examines the politics of the World War I era and the downturns in the economy, punctuated by the African American exodus of the Great Migration and the white reaction to it—first welcoming it and then becoming alarmed at the economic repercussions. As Fraser takes the reader up to World War II, he traces the effects of the Great Depression and the stirrings of the modern civil rights movement in the city. The book bogs down in its last two [End Page 471] chapters (out of six). Fraser crowds the entire history of the World War II years, the remainder of the twentieth century, and the beginnings of the present century into those chapters. While the chapters include fascinating and indispensable history of city hall politics, civil rights activity and African American leadership, and transformations in business and infrastructure, they lack flow and deep treatment of the subjects of the period.
Savannah in the New South offers scholarly coverage of Savannah's history. As such, it places Savannah into the histories of its state and region. By recognizing broader themes and trends, the book also fills a need for local histories that fit communities into the context of national history. In addition, it fully explores the role of African Americans in the city's history, acknowledging the proportion of that group of the population and discussing the tensions between African Americans and white people. Still, the coverage of African American history seems slightly strained and self-conscious. Of more serious concern for a scholarly work is the reliance on secondary sources and weaker primary source research. The book also suffers from a distracting tendency to refer to people and events as if they should be known, causing the reader to skim previous pages or paragraphs only to find a scant reference.
Overall, Savannah in the New South is interesting, generally easy to read, and highly informative. It will be a valuable addition to the historical literature on the city and to works that bring together local history and state, regional, and national history.