The Rural Face of White Supremacy
From the concluding chapter of Mark Schultz’s excellent The Rural Face of White Supremacy: Beyond Jim Crow:
“As Hancock [County, Georgia] more fully entered the commercial market, it largely left behind the complex, intimate world. It became more systematic, more conformist, and more public. Now people in Hancock inhabit a cultural world long familiar to most Americans. Segregation, the consumer culture, bureaucratic government oversight, and decisions made by the managers of distantly owned paper-pulp companies have shoved aside the cultures of personalism, localism, and semisubsistence that had marked Hancock through the first half of the twentieth century. Much that had characterized rural Hancock and made it a place apart from the national currents passed with World War II” (p. 223).
The Rural Face of White Supremacy was researched and written over a sixteen-year period, during which Schultz conducted interviews — often multiple, lengthy interviews — with more than 180 people. For readers familiar with the American South mostly from films such as Gone With the Wind and Twelve Years a Slave, and from general knowledge of the most memorable incidents of he Civil Rights Era, The Rural Face of White Supremacy will be eye-opening.
Schultz’s book offers a more nearly accurate picture of the great variation in the experiences of African Americans in the South during those decades stretching from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. In particular, he makes clear that any description of the region as a “Solid South” is simply wrong. The true picture is not simply one of black docility and white solidarity. That is a flattening and homogenizing of a far more complicated, diverse Southern experience. Moreover, that view does a disservice to the cause of racial justice, in that it deprives African Americans of the early 20th century South of the agency that many of then fought so hard to wrench from the oppressive regime of white supremacy.
In The Rural Face of White Supremacy, readers will encounter at a level of fine detail the actual workings of white supremacy. No doubt many will be shocked, not so much by the expected descriptions of lynchings and beatings, but by the ingenious and ruthless ways in which white Southerners maintained their power over and control of African Americans. They will likewise read about the manner in which family relations and friendship between whites and blacks, class differences among African American families, the workings of patronage, the pervasive influence of what Schultz calls personalism, acts of determined courage by some black Hancock County families, and many other factors complicate any and all reductive accounts of race relations in the Jim Crow South.
Written in an academic style, but completely accessible to the lay reader, The Rural Face of White Supremacy is an important and necessary book. Highly recommended.