SOUTHERN JOURNEY by Tom Dent

SOUTHERN JOURNEY

My Return to the Civil Rights Movement
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Dent (former executive director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation) not only recounts his 1991 trip across the South, he illuminates the odyssey of the black soul across the second half of the 20th century. Focusing on smaller towns and cities, such as Orangeburg, S.C., and Albany, Ga., Dent asked residents about the civil rights movement and its local legacy. Coupled with his own observations and some historical background, the result is a series of images with real depth. The wide variation in experiences and evident splintering of the black community in the South are striking, but a common thread runs through the interviews: The high hopes pinned on voter registration and school desegregation have gone unrealized, even though both goals were largely achieved. Blacks gained access to political power and then discovered that this was not sufficient to gain economic power and improve economic conditions. Desegregation brought black children into public schools previously reserved for whites, but did not necessarily provide them with a better education. Indeed, Dent ponders the once (and possibly still) heretical notion that the old, underfunded black schools may have done a superior job of preparing their students for a white-dominated world. Dogmatic supporters of 1970s civil rights policies will not applaud this suggestion any more than those who deny the significance of race in this country will welcome the depiction of persistent economic inequality. This is not the place to look for sweeping analyses and grand conclusions, however; the strength of Dent's effort is the feeling his descriptions evoke for each locale and its residents. His work succeeds because it doesn't overreach. Moreover, one is left with the impression that the people whose lives we glimpse are disappointed but not crushed, and that while new leadership is needed, the old fervent energy has not completely dissipated. A book to savor. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen; 1 map) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-688-14099-8
Page count: 325pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1996