There are those who say the South has disappeared. But in her groundbreaking, thought-provoking exploration of the region, Tracy Thompson, a Georgia native and Pulitzer Prize finalist, asserts that it has merely drawn on its oldest tradition: an ability to adapt and transform itself.
Thompson spent years traveling through the region and discovered a South both amazingly similar and radically different from the land she knew as a child. African Americans who left en masse for much of the twentieth century are returning in huge numbers, drawn back by a mix of ambition, family ties, and cultural memory. Though Southerners remain more churchgoing than other Americans, the evangelical Protestantism that defined Southern culture up through the 1960s has been torn by bitter ideological schisms. The new South is ahead of others in absorbing waves of Latino immigrants, in rediscovering its agrarian traditions, in seeking racial reconciliation, and in reinventing what it means to have roots in an increasingly rootless global culture.
Drawing on mountains of data, interviews, and a whole new set of historic archives, Thompson upends stereotypes and fallacies to reveal the true heart of the South today—a region still misunderstood by outsiders and even by its own people. In that sense, she is honoring the tradition inaugurated by Wilbur Joseph Cash in 1941 in his classic, The Mind of the South. Cash’s book was considered the virtual bible on the origins of Southern identity and its transformation through time. Thompson has written its sequel for the twenty-first century.
Thompson (The Ghost in the House), a veteran journalist, Pulitzer finalist, and Georgia native, re-examines the notion of Southern identity (following W.J. Cash's classic, The Mind of the South) for the 21st century. Not only is the South that Thompson knew disappearing, but Southerners don't have much awareness of their past. According to Thompson, this "cognitive dissonance" is especially apparent in Southern views of the Civil War. Growing up in the 1960s, Thompson and her generation witnessed John Lewis beaten by a state trooper and Lester Maddox standing at his restaurant door with an ax handle, not understanding how the whopping omissions of history regarding racial violence and the Ku Klux Klan made the South a mass of contradictions because everyone "agreed not to talk about" the years between the Civil War and WWII. Combining her own experiences and observations with solid ethnographic and historical research, Thompson covers topics including immigration (after 1990, following 200 years of relative isolation, North Carolina and Georgia had the largest immigrant population growth in the U.S.); religion, race, politics, community; the disappearance of the rural South, and the urbanization of Atlanta. The result is a nuanced and sometimes astringently humorous portrait of a multifaceted, often misunderstood region that overturns stereotypes.
The new mind of the south
This book reads like an editorial. That is to say that this read is a singular view from the author drawing on her personal views of what the South was and now is, but grossly misses the nuances of any sincere effort at research. That being said, I have never been a fan of editorial pieces as they often seem to "list" far to one side in socio-political views. Simple bar talk would be perhaps more costly, but far more interesting...