The New Mind Of The South (review)

First impressions really do count.  Those first experiences are especially important during a person’s youth or early adulthood.  My college pal Rik invited me to visit his family home near Murfreesboro, Tennessee during spring break in 1972. It was my first real experience of “The South”.

south-mapI stopped to refuel my Camaro at a small gasoline station outside of West Memphis, Arkansas.  I had just paid for the gasoline and some snacks when I noticed some tough looking teens walking towards my car. I had just enough time to slip behind the wheel and lock my door.  As I turned the key to start the engine, one of the kids began hitting the right window with his fist. He looked at Rik, and then at me.  He flipped his middle finger at me, yelling “race traitor”. I floored the accelerator pedal and got away.  The kids’ pickup chased us up to the Tennesee state border then backed off.

While I’ve mostly forgotten the wonderful time I had with Rik’s family on their sharecropper farm, the incident at the gas station is still vivid. I have since met and befriended other southerners.  They’re all quite friendly, kind-hearted, and laid back.  I’m still reluctant to make a return trip to that part of the United States. However, I remain curious about the South.

The old memory came back to me in a flash when I spotted Tracy Thompson’s book at the south-bookNorfolk Public Library.  The New Mind Of The South was an automatic “must read”. I quickly noted that the book is brand new as of March this year and is less than 300 pages.

Thompson spent a few years investigating material for her book. The Georgia native, Yankee journalist, discovered that the south she knew as a child had undergone some changes. She also noted that a few mores had not changed much despite the cultural shifts.

One of the most noticeable changes is the racial mix. Families of the African Americans who fled the South in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have been returning south in large numbers. They are returning, in part, because of cultural and family memories and possible job opportunities. Thompson writes also about the fact that the South has absorbed the first waves of hispanic immigrants.

Thompson discovered that the new Latino families share many cultural values with the old school whites.  Southern identity has traditionally centered around Evangelical, Protestant Christianity, mainly the Southern Baptist churches.  Southerners still have more of the church-going bent than other Americans. But Southern religion has been touched by somesouth-confederateflag bitter ideological disagreements and splits.

There is one vignette that haunts me.  The African American, Sam Hose was accused of killing his employer and raping the bosses wife near Newnan, Georgia in April of 1899. Hose was apprehended and returned by train to Newnan. A lynch mob of over 2,000 people captured the prisoner.  The crowd chopped off Hose’s ears, fingers and genitals. His face was skinned then he was tied to a tree and burned alive. Afterwards, some members of the crowd carried off parts as souvenirs.

That incident and the lynchings of civil rights activists in the 1960s gave truth to the saying, “A Negro’s life is a very cheap thing in the South.”  I couldn’t help but think of my friend Rik and how he might have fared back in those days.

I was somewhat disappointed that Thompson failed to elaborate on many of the subjects she touched upon. Given that she spent a lot of time researching her material, that lack was quite noticeable. Perhaps she is planning a sequel to this book for more serious readers. The knowledge deficit is made up in the lengthy chapter about Atlanta, Georgia.  I found that portion to be the most satisfying of them all.

That said, I recommend the book as a good lesson about the South for Yankees like me and as a touchstone for Southerners, themselves.

The New Mind Of The South by Tracy Thompson published by Simon & Shuster. ISBN: 978-1-4391-5803-6


The Blue Jay of Happiness ain’t just whistlin’ “Dixie”.

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Books, Controversy, cultural highlights, History, Politics, religion, Youth and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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