1.6.07

ZERO-SUM THINKING? It's not often that a Ph.D. dissertation works as a serious popular book. Cornell's Jason Sokol managed the trick with There Goes My Everything, the material for Book Review No. 1213. His purpose is relatively simple.
Historians have yet to capture those narratives of white southerners during the age of civil rights in all their complexity.
It's nowhere near as simple as benighted yahoos interfering with the Lord's work.
Some civil rights supporters misunderstood the white communities that served as battlegrounds, the very places they sought to transform. Among the civil rights movement's lessons, J. Mills Thornton has argued, "it became clear that white southerners' doubts about segregation were both more extreme and complex than either zealous segregationists or civil rights advocates initially appreciated." White southerners' racial attitudes and behavior frequently revealed a confused and conflicted people, at times divided within and against themselves.
A person Professor Sokol interviewed for his work noted,
"When Martin Luther King said ... 'This isn't right.' It was just ... like a light bulb that went off in a lot of our heads that, 'Well, you know, it really isn't.' It's just the way it had always been and so we accepted it."
And some people accepted that the rules had to change, and some people resisted, and so the region changed. Some of the reading is instructive in other ways. For instance, the Ninth Ward of New Orleans had been a poor and neglected part of the city long before the levees failed, and it made a bad place to begin desegregation. The local residents, no matter their ancestry, perceived it as yet another imposition by people who held them in contempt, and reacted in kind. In microcosm, that mirrored the reaction of white southerners to what they perceived as yet another imposition by yet another batch of carpetbaggers, and Professor Sokol compares some of the aftereffects to the institutional reconfigurations that accompany a military conquest. Taking the longer view, however, additional forces, not all related to desegregation, including changes in the minimum wage laws, agricultural mechanization, and migrations of industry, offices and people, are also at work, and in much of the old Confederacy today the remaining dynamics of what we used to call "race relations" also interact with the effects of migration from Latin America and the former Soviet bloc. Fascinating stuff.

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