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ED PIACENTINO High Point University, Emeritus Hillary Jordan’s Mudbound and the Neo-Segregation Narrative White people believe that they’re better than anyone else on earth—and that’s a myth. The last thing they ever want is to see a black man stand, and think, and show that common humanity that is in us all. It would destroy their myth. —Ernest J. Gaines (A Lesson Before Dying 192) Captain, . . . [the former slaves] are excellent fighters. . . . these battles put them on their mettle. They have been so long taught that they are nothing and nobody, that they seem glad to prove they are something and somebody. —Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (Iola Leroy 34-35) Reading about Jim Crow in the paper is a mighty different thing from having a civilian bus driver wave a pistol in your face and tell you to get your coon hide off the bus to make room for a fat white farmer. They just couldn’t understand it, no matter how many times we tried to explain it to them. You got to go along to get along . . . , got to humble down and play shut-mouthed when you around white folks. —Hillary Jordan (Mudbound 41-42) 2014 MARKED THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE 1964 CIVIL RIGHTS ACT that outlawed racial segregation in schools, in workplaces, and at facilities serving as public accommodations. The law also helped to reduce racial and gender discrimination in hiring and unequal requirements for voter registration, breaking down some of the last barriers promoting oppression, divisiveness, and resistance to an integrated American society. It helped to acknowledge the “common humanity that is in us all” (Gaines 192), that is, in persons of different races, ethnicities, and genders. Even so, as Brian Norman has recently argued, “Jim Crow may no longer be the law of the land but ..... racial segregationpersistsindifferent,seeminglymorecomplexforms”(17).Or as he succinctly puts it in what seems to be a paradox, “Segregation is a thing of the past; [still] segregation persists” (18). In her debut novel, Mudbound (2008), Hillary Jordan, a post-civil rights era writer, focuses on the Jim Crow era while at the same time implicitly acknowledging that the problems of segregation and inequality still exist in the present. What Norman says about Ernest 268 Ed Piacentino Gaines’s 1993 novel A Lesson Before Dying seems pertinent to Jordan’s interest in and aversion toward the era of racial segregation she treats in Mudbound.: It is easy to see the repulsion and lure the Jim Crow South poses for Gaines . . . , since it carries both an unavoidable history of racial terror and despair as well as stories of racial survival and kinship. . . . The occasion of A Lesson Before Dying.’s National Book Award presented a stark contrast between the dehumanization of the novel’s subjects in the 1940s and the lionization of its author in the 1990s. The novel’s selection for Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club in 1997 helped secure its place in the American imagination as a celebrated testament to black resistance and dignity. (2-3) Jordan’s Mudbound also achieved national recognition. Awarded the biennial Barbara Kingsolver Bellwether Prize for a first novel by a previously unpublished author that promotes social change and justice, Mudbound, Kingsolver remarked, is storytelling at the height of its powers: the ache of wrongs not yet made right, the fierce attendance of history made as real as rain, as true as this minute. Hillary Jordan writes with the force of a Delta storm. Her characters walked straight out of 1940’s Mississippi and into the part of my brain where sympathy and anger and love reside, leaving my heart racing. They are with me still. (“Kudos”) In addition to the Bellwether, Mudbound received numerous other accolades, including the 2008 New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Fiction Book of the Year, the 2009 Alex Award from the American Library Association, one of Paste Magazine’s top ten debut novels of the decade, and the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers choice. Mudbound sold over two hundred thousand copies within fifteen months of publication, and the trade paperback enjoyed six weeks on the New York Times extended list (“Kudos”; Hewitt). Contemporary reviews...


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pp. 267-290
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