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FW: Emmons on Dillard and Hall, _The Southern Albatross_

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  • A.J. Wright
    fyi...aj wright // ajwright@uab.edu ... From: H-Net Reviews [mailto:books@H-NET.MSU.EDU] Sent: Thursday, January 18, 2001 1:48 PM To: H-REVIEW@H-NET.MSU.EDU
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      -----Original Message-----
      From: H-Net Reviews [mailto:books@...]
      Sent: Thursday, January 18, 2001 1:48 PM
      To: H-REVIEW@...
      Subject: Emmons on Dillard and Hall, _The Southern Albatross_


      H-NET BOOK REVIEW
      Published by H-South@... (December, 2000)

      Philip D. Dillard and Randal L. Hall. _The Southern Albatross: Race
      and Ethnicity in the American South_. Macon, Ga: Mercer University
      Press, 1999. 280 pp. $19.00 (paper): ISBN: 0-86554-666-5.

      Reviewed for H-South by Caroline Emmons <cemmons@...>,
      Department of History, Hampden-Sydney College

      The Reality of Myth: Constructions of Race in the American South

      Philip Dillard (Assistant Professor of History at James Madison
      University) and Randal Hall (Assistant Director of Admissions at
      Wake Forest University) have undertaken a difficult task in their
      collection of essays _The Southern Albatross: Race and Ethnicity in
      the American South_ (Macon, Ga: Mercer University Press, 1999). The
      collection seeks to probe and illuminate the definition(s) of race
      in the South, the way those definitions have shifted over time and
      space, and the manner in which those perceptions have affected the
      lives of Southerners. These essays were presented at the Symposium
      on Southern History, held at Rice University in 1997, by an
      interesting group of young scholars. As with most edited
      collections, some of these essays are more successful than others in
      exploring what has always proven to be a very challenging subject.
      The reader of the entire volume does not necessarily come away with
      a clearer idea of how race has evolved with a fixed set of social
      constructions but rather an appreciation of how tangled, complex,
      and even contradictory such constructions really are.

      The first essay, by Samuel Watson, analyzes the often reluctant role
      played by U.S. army officers in the Second Seminole War. Watson
      finds that although the army officers fighting a poorly understood
      conflict certainly held many prejudices against their Indian
      opponents, they were even more dissatisfied with the military
      institution in Washington which had consigned them to a miserable
      fate. These officers even retained an appreciation, however
      paternalistic, for the "noble savage" against whom they fought.
      Clayton Jewett also looks at a conflict with Indians in the South,
      this time focusing on Texas' struggle to control its Indian problem
      during the Civil War. His essay discusses Native Americans' attempt
      to parlay internal discord among white Americans into territorial
      and political advantage in Texas. And, as with other examples
      ranging from the Iroquois to the Cherokee, Native Americans residing
      in Texas were mostly unsuccessful in holding off white encroachment.

      David McGee's study of Wake County in North Carolina provides a
      microcosm for studying the African American response to
      emancipation. While the experience of blacks in and around Raleigh,
      both the county seat for Wake and the state capital, was not
      dissimilar from other accounts of other places in the South, the
      high proportion of black women in Raleigh provided additional
      economic challenges. McGee also concludes that the decision about
      whether to live in an urban or rural area led to major differences
      in the experience of the freedmen and women. James Wilson examines
      a fascinating, and often overlooked, issue in his essay on
      intra-race relations within the African American community during
      the 1860s in Louisiana. The racial hierarchy in Louisiana has long
      been understood as more complex than in many other parts of the
      South. Wilson sheds light on the very different experiences of
      those blacks who had been free before the war and those for whom the
      conclusion of the war brought emancipation. In that timeless debate
      over race and class, it appears as though class was a more important
      determinant than race in Louisiana during and after the war in the
      formation and development of new communities.

      Angela Boswell's essay on women and domestic violence in Texas
      during the 1870s makes interesting use of court records and
      demonstrates the complexities of analyzing family relationships
      based on relatively dispassionate court recordings. Yet her essay
      does not really tell the reader much about how race may have been a
      part of the court's deliberations or, for that matter, the women's
      responses to their husband's violent behavior. She concludes that
      domestic violence was widespread but that it did not challenge the
      use of marriage as a fundamental means of community and social
      organization. This is hardly a new finding; it's a pity that
      sources are perhaps not available to tell us more about whether
      their experience in the court system offered other forms of
      empowerment.

      Stephen Brown's essay on Leo Frank and the role of anti-Semitism in
      the Southern pantheon of racial stereotypes inspires exactly the
      sort of re-analysis of Southern racial stereotyping which the
      editors hoped to provoke. Why did the white South accept the word
      of an African American man over that of a hard-working and
      respectable Jew? In what ways did myths of sexuality affect white
      Southern reactions to Frank's supposed crime? (Frank was lynched in
      1915 after being accused of raping and murdering a 13-year old girl
      working in the factory he managed.) Brown's essay indicates that
      Southern ideas on race were not static and that when conflicting or
      competing stereotypes met, the outcome could be unpredictable.

      Nancy Lopez's essay on the child murders in Atlanta in 1980 is
      similarly provocative. What makes this case so compelling is that
      it reveals the challenges associated with growing African American
      political power in the modern South. The new black power structure
      was reluctant to conclude that an African American was the most
      likely culprit. The shocking murders also reflected unflatteringly
      on a city which had prided itself on its racial moderation and its
      progressiveness. The difficulty the city had in reconciling its own
      press with the demands of solving the case provides a fascinating
      example of the challenges that black political leaders have faced in
      the post-1960s era.

      The final essay, by Jeff Roche, provides another, quite unique,
      angle on how racial attitudes have changed in the aftermath of the
      civil rights movement. Asa Carter, the vitriolic racist behind some
      of George Wallace's more inflammatory speeches of the early 1960s
      and an active white supremacist of long-standing, transformed
      himself into Forrest Carter, author of the extraordinarily popular
      "The Education of Little Tree." With this transformation, Carter
      not only attempted to shed his unsavory past (although not
      necessarily abandoning those philosophies) but embraced a new
      identity belonging to another minority group, the American Indian.
      Roche demonstrates not only Carter's facility with self re-invention
      but also the various confused responses of Forrest Carter's
      associates after his 'unmasking".

      _The Southern Albatross_ does not leave the reader with a clearer
      picture of how race has emerged as a set of social constructions in
      the South. If anything, the reader might feel even more perplexed,
      and more dismayed, at the ways this region has been crippled by its
      unwillingness to let go of such prejudices. In the Epilogue, Donald
      Mathews writes eloquently about the creation and uses of myths in
      the South. And by their very definition, myths remain mysterious
      while, as this volume makes clear, their legacies can be all too
      real.

      Copyright (c) 2000 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work
      may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit
      is given to the author and the list. For other permission,
      please contact H-Net@....
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