IN SEARCH OF THE SILENT SOUTH: Southern Liberals and the Race Issue by Morton Sosna

IN SEARCH OF THE SILENT SOUTH: Southern Liberals and the Race Issue

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KIRKUS REVIEW

When it came to segregation, Southern liberals generally had little to say""; they believed that as insiders they could make separate-but-equal more humane, often in a specifically Christian sense; they feared outside criticism and intervention; and they never found a mass base among the ""Silent South,"" that is, white Southerners secretly critical of the racial order. There is little novelty in the 1920s-1940s overview supplied by Sosna, a National Endowment for the Humanities staffer who here expands his doctoral thesis. Plenty of names but too little striking detail characterize his sympathetic recaps of the lives and works of key white liberals. These include the North Carolina sociologist Howard Odum, a crochety student of ""organic"" black folk culture and advocate of regional economic development; Virginius Dabney, the patrician Richmond Times-Dispatch editor who hoped separate could be equal; and Lillian Smith, whose anti-segregation novel Strange Fruit is inadequately summarized, though Sosna intriguingly notes that it was less reviled in the South than in the North. World War II was the ""moment of truth"" for Southern liberals, who took resurgent lynchings and white supremacist agitation as an omen of race war, and watched the late-'40s federal intervention against Jim Crow they had always feared. Sosna concludes that they weren't total failures: they moderated the vigilantist climate and paved the way for Jimmy Carter. Confined to regional figures and thus omitting the feistier liberalism of a Claude Pepper or Hugo Black, this is rather fiat and restricted for general readers, rather shallow for specialists.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press