A Georgia-born journalist tries to make sense of today’s American South.
Once relatively isolated and immigrant-free, the states of the Old Confederacy have changed significantly, casting off the “Confederate flag-waving, ‘Dixie’-singing school of Southern identity” and transitioning to a multiethnic society, writes Thompson (The Ghost in the House: Real Mothers Talk About Maternal Depression, Raising Children, and How They Cope, 2007, etc.). For a supposedly tradition-bound region, the South remains a place where change “comes quickly and with stunning force.” In this bright blend of research and reporting, the author identifies key aspects of the region’s evolving identity. Hispanics, mainly from Mexico and Central America, now make up 5 percent of the population. In Asheboro, N.C., now 20 percent Hispanic, Latino teenagers text, play video games, listen to rap and reggae, and do not think of themselves as Southerners. Meanwhile, traditional residents—black and white—are beginning to confront a past that they have ignored or distorted by celebrating the Lost Cause myth and bowdlerizing history texts. Disparate trends are prompting honest conversations between the races, including the advent of a generation of youth who have never experienced overt discrimination and the aging of the civil rights generation, with its need to find its place in history. Other signs of change include the growing black remigration into the region and the many new marriages between blacks and whites (about double the national average). While rural areas are experiencing a brain drain, cities like Atlanta, Charlotte and Nashville have turned into urban melting pots. For all the changes, the South still retains a deep sense of community. Thompson draws nicely on personal experiences, interviews and visits to conventions of the Children of the Confederacy and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
A well-considered, well-written appraisal of a region that is more complicated than many readers realize.