THE DISPOSSESSED: America's Underclasses from the Civil War to the Present by Jacqueline Jones

THE DISPOSSESSED: America's Underclasses from the Civil War to the Present

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A provocative sociohistorical account of America's underclasses. Jones (American Civilization/Brandeis; Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow, 1985) argues that the history of poverty in this country, intermingled as it is with a legacy of racism, has been and continues to be misunderstood. One current misperception, Jones says, is the almost exclusive association of poverty with the northern, urban-black population. In fact, she points out, poverty in late-20th-century America is principally not black, northern, or urban. Poor whites outnumber poor blacks two to one, and the largest percentage of poor are to be found in rural areas, with more in the South than in the North. Poverty transcends race, Jones says, but poor whites are chronically overlooked because they defy prevailing notions of racial superiority. Her focus here is on poverty among blacks, though, as she calls America ""a society conceived in slavery,"" thriving on a labor consciousness rooted in ""indentured servitude."" (Jones draws some insightful analogies between yesterday's southern plantation and today's northern ghetto.) Radical economic inequality, the author implies, is the natural consequence of agrarian, commercial, and industrial capitalism--and with economic growth has come the inevitable impoverishment of various groups. A universal common denominator among the poor, she says, is that of dispossession--the crucial lack of ""place."" Where one lives plays a significant role in the preservation of status-for both rich and poor--throughout generations. The history of the dispossessed is, Jones demonstrates, one of a ceaseless search for a little piece of land, an address, a place to call home. And ""if you do not have a home place, very little will ever be yours, really belong to you in the world."" Thorough, richly researched, and written with moral fire.

Pub Date: March 12th, 1992
Page count: 375pp
Publisher: Basic Books