Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tracy Thompson's "The New Mind of the South"

Tracy Thompson is a reporter and essayist who has written about subjects ranging from psychiatry to law to the Civil War. She is the author of The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression and The Ghost in the House.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The New Mind of the South, and reported the following:
People are forever writing off the American South--bemoaning its dwindling political importance or its cultural significance, or arguing that it just doesn't exist anymore and has been assimilated into a bland suburbanized American culture. And yet, despite what looks like very good evidence for all three assertions, the South continues to exist as a definable culture-within-a-culture and to exert huge influence on the American body politic. The reason, in one word, is race. The South is where the ideals of democracy met the harsh realities of skin color, where the meaning of "all men are created equal" was tested against the most easily identifiable means of sorting people into "superior" and "inferior" groups. It's a problem we're all still working on in one form or another, but the South has had more experience with that than any other region.

Page 99 of The New Mind of the South describes one aspect of this struggle happening in the South today: a grassroots racial reconciliation effort that has sprung up in communities across the South. It's a movement that has taken various forms and causes, from gaining historic status for a neglected black cemetery to discovering the black branch of a white family tree (or vice versa) to restoring stories from the South's "shadow history"--the decades of racial violence that followed the Civil War--to their proper historical context.

Historian C. Vann Woodward coined the phrase "the burden of Southern history" in the 1960s to refer to the fact that the South is the only part of the country that had lost a war; that fact, he thought, gave Southerners a unique vantage point from which to see their country. It's a genius phrase, but Woodward's definition is outdated; today, the burden is a memory of military defeat, but our collective memory of a shared racial history.
Learn more about the book and author at Tracy Thompson's website and blog.

Writers Read: Tracy Thompson.

--Marshal Zeringue