Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pg. 69: "There Goes My Everything"

Jason Sokol is Visiting Assistant Professor of History and Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University and the author of There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights.

I asked Jason to put his book to the "page 69 test"; here is his response:

There Goes My Everything narrates the civil rights years from the perspective of southern whites – a populace that ambled reluctantly toward racial change. For its stories and its drama, my book relies on the words of southerners themselves, on those who lived through a transformation few had seriously contemplated.

This excerpt from the book, on page 69, is littered with quotes. On this page alone, I quote no less than 8 different people. One of them, Martin Luther King, Jr., declares that the black freedom struggle “will turn Albany upside down.” The other 7 voices – all white residents of that Southwest Georgia area – insist that civil rights protests will achieve no such change. A persistent paternalism and long-held racial stereotypes weigh down many of their comments. One man volunteers, “A Negro is O.K. as long as they stay in their place.” Another woman characterizes African-Americans as “happy and content,” and as the dupes of “outside agitators” like King.

While most pages of my book do not contain as many quotes as page 69, the words on this page help to illuminate the old southern mindset about race, alive and well in Albany, Georgia during the 1960s.

Whites clung to such traditional notions even as the greatest social movement in twentieth-century America unfolded before their eyes. Indeed, the civil rights movement exposed such beliefs for the myths they had always been. Before the civil rights years, most whites thought of blacks as content and docile, picturing African-Americans as “their Negroes.” But as I write on page 57: “The claims of bewildered whites collided with the reality of organized blacks, who exploded the myth that they were anyone’s Negroes, or that they ever had been.”

The civil rights movement not only won legal equality for black Americans. It also forced white southerners to rethink the teachings of a lifetime, and to make their way in a new social world. This is the upheaval that There Goes My Everything chronicles, and a small taste of the stories that it tells.

Many thanks to Jason for the input.

Click here to read an excerpt from There Goes My Everything.

Among the praise for the book:

“For most of us, ‘white southerners’ remain an undifferentiated mass of forces hostile to the social and political progress of African-Americans in the civil rights era. Jason Sokol brilliantly reveals, for the first time, that this image was only one dimension of a vastly more complex range of emotions and opinions within the white southern community between 1945 and 1975. There Goes My Everything is a subtle, nuanced, and strikingly original study that explores the ways in which the white community was not only threatened by but also conflicted about the black revolution that engulfed it, and it does so with sympathy and grace.”
--Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

“It’s difficult not to approach Sokol’s book with sheer astonishment that it has been written by one so young...but in truth, just about any scholar in the field would be happy to claim There Goes My Everything as his or her own work.”
--Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World

“A fascinating and remarkably empathetic assessment of how white southerners experienced the civil-rights movement.”
--Atlantic Monthly

Click here for links to some of Jason's essays.

Previous "page 69 tests":
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue