Introduction
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Introduction “The tourist archipelagoes of my South  / are prisons, too, corruptible,” writes the poet Derek Walcott. He refers to the actual archipelagoes of the Caribbean. But his South and mine share that in common, imprisoned in an inherited corruption. The tourists who visit, and indeed, too many of the south­ erners who live their lives there, remain essentially ignorant of the fractured layers of history that lie beneath the landscape they see—and therefore, of the complex capacity of those histories to manifest themselves in what observers take to be the present. I have adopted Walcott’s phrase as the title for this collection in part because these essays seem to me islands in the stream of south­ ern history, independent investigations linked together by the powerful and tortured past of the region.They do not tell the whole story,or even any considerable part of it. But each can serve in some sense as a metaphor, and together they allow us to see the South’s history working itself out in a variety of situations. It is not that they started out that way, I should say. The essays span my entire career as a scholar, from one written as a seminar paper in graduate school to one written only last year and published here for the first time. The unity I attribute to them derives not from any conscious design on my part,but from the persistent region that is their common focus.I have spent the last fifty years puzzling over the South, and particularly over the ever-­ gathering force of its history in the lives of its people. The essays all represent efforts to understand the sources of the region’s power, drawn from vari­ ous times in my own intellectual life and from vari­ ous points in the south­ ern past. I do not expect that the essays will come together to provide the reader with a key to the regional conundrum, but I do think they will serve to clarify for the reader why the enormous diversity of the south­ ern experience makes that power so great. I also think that the variety of the articles’ subject matter, and the fact that the collection spans much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, may allow the reader to see interconnections that would otherwise not be apparent. I have said that my focus is on the South, but the reader will soon see xii  / Introduction that, in large part, it is actually on Ala­ bama. I do not mean to imply that the South is merely Ala­ bama writ large. On the contrary, I believe strongly in the significance of the local in the shaping of history, and I there­ fore accept—­ indeed, affirm—the elements of uniqueness that separate each south­ ern state, and all of its localities, from one another. At the same time, it is clear that south­ ern states, and their counties and towns, share his­ tori­ cal experiences and institutions that mark the region,and more,that the experiences and institutions they share with the rest of America are received into and distorted by the regional his­ tori­ cal context. In that sense, I do believe that the study of Ala­ bama can teach us about the region at large, and for that matter, about the dilemmas of humanity. That may be all the introduction this collection requires. Each article can, I trust, stand on its own bottom, and the lessons to be derived from placing them in conversation with one another I will largely leave to the reader, with the hope that readers may find the process as moving and instructive as I do. Nevertheless, I have thought that a brief account of my own intellectual biography might help to place the articles in the context that gave immediate rise to them.1 I was particularly fortunate as an under­ gradu­ ate at Prince­ ton to work with two superb historians, Professors James M. McPher­ son and F. Sheldon Hackney. I first undertook the serious study of history in a sophomore seminar conducted by Professor McPher­ son on comparative reconstructions.McPherson validated my then distinctly sopho­ moric belief that the investigation of the history of my native Ala­ bama was actually a legitimate enterprise, kindly sharing with me an un­ pub­ lished seminar paper that he had written on Ala­ bama’s Democratic Reconstruction governor, Robert B. Lindsay, and urging me to pursue related topics . Professor Hackney joined the Princeton...


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Subject Headings

  • Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877).
  • Civil rights -- United States -- History.
  • Southern States -- History -- 1865-1951.
  • Southern States -- History -- 1951-.
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