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Black, White, and Southern: Race Relations and Southern Culture, 1940 to the Present.

This wide-ranging synthesis of Southern racial developments demonstrates the importance of studies that endeavor, as historian Bernard Bailyn once urged, "to bring order into large areas of history and thus to reintroduce history in a sophisticated form to a wider reading public, through synthetic works ... on major themes, works that explain some significant part of the story of how the present world came to be the way it is" (AHR, 87 [February 1982], 7-8).

Assessing the last half century and using redemption from "the sin of white supremacy" as his central theme, David R. Goldfield, a distinguished professor in the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, mines historiography, literature, mass media, and a variety of other printed sources to describe our transition from conflict to cooperation, explaining how "the race relations we have today - the good parts and the lingering bad - resulted from a regional trauma of immense proportions, paid for in blood and souls and minds." His intended readership specially includes college students, whose need to learn the significance of that story helped create "the inspiration for this book" (p. xv).

The author begins by describing a racially bound cultural order gradually being liberated from within and without. Built over centuries on blacks' and whites' entwined and shared histories, Southern culture by the early 1900s sanctioned "an elaborate etiquette" of Jim Crow, separating the two races by "an abyss so deep that few held out hope for reconciliation" (pp. xiv, 1). Yet hopeful signs for liberation showed: blacks, building strong social institutions, not only accommodated but protested, and liberal whites, haltingly dissenting from the majority, took cautious steps toward reform. These indigenous efforts emboldened as "the federal presence," modernization, and democracy evolved in the region during the Depression, New Deal, World War II, and postwar decade (p. 31).

Goldfield details dramatically what he calls a period of confrontation, notably 1954-65, when white resistance to change and the demise of Jim Crow proceeded apace. In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, with Dixiecrats and Citizens' Councils attacking integrationists as communists, the liberal movement virtually collapsed. However, the segregationist campaign was defeated by a black-led civil rights crusade that supplied "the shock troops for the army of redemption" (p. 123). From the Montgomery bus boycott through the Selma march, highly publicized nonviolent battles to desegregate transportation, schools, public accommodations, and voting booths "placed blacks and their cause on a high moral ground in the evangelical South. They were the army of God seeking to redeem a people and a region" (p. 139). White Southerners were not inherently evil, preached Martin Luther King, Jr., but rather shackled by a system that hindered their intrinsic instincts for good. The civil rights struggle loosened the cultural shackle of color caste "by revealing that southernness - religious faith, place, past, and manners - was not identical with ... segregation" (p. 148).

The period of consolidation, 1965-76, ushered in black reenfranchisement and progress with attendant problems. Thanks to the Voting Rights Act, arguably the freedom movement's most effective statutory achievement, politics, like buses and eateries, desegregated. Voter registration increased locally and regionally, including 60 percent of eligible blacks in 1970. Black ballots translated into considerable office-holding; new jobs and services; participation in progressive coalitions; election of white moderates such as Jimmy Carter; and human reorientation of federal, state, and local policies. While voting irregularities, at-large elections, gerrymanders, open primaries, annexations, and veiled racist appeals diluted blacks' electoral power, their intragroup disillusionment, their factionalism, their emerging self-interested middle class, and their growing, invisible underclass proved equally problematic in the new political dispensation.

The period of confusion, 1976-present, if reflecting a strained dialogue among Southerners, attests to greater diversity in attitude and behavior.

Generally, "the old racial etiquette is gone in the urban South and is changing elsewhere" (p. 272). Blacks and whites can and do express more class-based views on politics, on school resegregation or quality education, and on the widening gap between middle- and upper-class blacks. A consensus is developing from differing viewpoints that the region's number one problem now is its persistent poverty, not racism. And "for the crusade against economic injustice," Goldfield prophesies, "southern blacks and whites are likely to be partners" (p. 278).

Goldfield's book, which has a bibliography but no notes, effectively explains the course of black-white relationships over the past fifty years. His discussion of the hitherto understudied post-civil rights decades is especially insightful.
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Author:Gavins, Raymond
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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