During the Great Depression, the American South was not merely "the
nation's number one economic problem," as President Franklin
Roosevelt declared. It was also a battlefield on which forces for
and against social change were starting to form. For a white
southern liberal like Jonathan Daniels, editor of the Raleigh
News and Observer
, it was a fascinating moment to explore.
Attuned to culture as well as politics, Daniels knew the true South
lay somewhere between Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road
Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind
. On May 5, 1937, he
set out to find it, driving thousands of miles in his trusty
Plymouth and ultimately interviewing even Mitchell herself.
In Discovering the South
historian Jennifer Ritterhouse
pieces together Daniels's unpublished notes from his tour along
with his published writings and a wealth of archival evidence to
put this one man's journey through a South in transition into a
larger context. Daniels's well chosen itinerary brought him face to
face with the full range of political and cultural possibilities in
the South of the 1930s, from New Deal liberalism and social
planning in the Tennessee Valley Authority, to Communist agitation
in the Scottsboro case, to planters' and industrialists'
reactionary worldview and repressive violence. The result is a
lively narrative of black and white southerners fighting for and
against democratic social change at the start of the nation's long
civil rights era.
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