Book Review: The Southern Diaspora

The Southern Diaspora: How The Great Migrations of Black And White Transformed America, by James N. Gregory

In reading this book I was struck by the question of whether or not I counted as a southerner. This is a question of identity that is worth dealing with elsewhere, but this book looks at the white and black migrations out of the South (as well as the counter migrations back into the south) through a dialectic fashion that seeks to determine why it is that the black migrations, being largely urban in nature, and featuring a high degree of racial solidarity, had more immediate effect than those of the comparatively larger but less unified white diaspora, but ultimately the author comments on the migrations being profound politically and culturally in both. While my own personal place in this diaspora and migration is somewhat ambivalent, I certainly know a great many people who were a part of the white southern diaspora, including quite a few close friends, and that is something that this book helped me to understand as being worthy of study because few people have bothered to look at the white migration from the south even as the black one has been viewed as a “great migration” in the eyes of many black scholars.

This book is about 350 pages long including its appendices and it has 9 chapters. The author begins with a preface and introduction that set up his dialectical approach to southern out-migration in the period from the Civil War to the growth of the South after the 1960’s. After that there is a discussion of a century of migration (1) based on census data, along with some discussions of the migration stories for both whites and blacks (2). This leads to a discussion of success and failure (3) as it looked to both groups of people who left the South (4), before the author focuses considerable attention on the development of black parts of large cities where they obtained considerable local political power (5). The author contrasts the different visions of the Gospel between black and white southerners (6) as well as explores how it is that blacks leveraged their civil rights improvements (7) and how it is that white southerners helped to re-configure what it meant to be conservative (8). The author then discusses the great migrations in summary form, along with conclusions he draws from his analysis (9) before providing appendices on tables (i) and a note on his methods (ii), after which there are notes and an index.

Ultimately, there are a lot of factors that show both the similarities between white and black as migrants. Both migrations encouraged a high degree of personal morality among believers, and southerners in general have tended to be looked down on by others as being lower class. For the most part, blacks gained more political power through their travels thanks to their concentration in urban areas where they were able to connect with corrupt political machines in the Democratic party. Although the southern migration of whites featured a fair amount of liberals who did not feel welcome in the South, there were certainly a lot of conservatives as well who helped spread right-wing thinking, conservative religious beliefs, and a love of country music to places far outside the South. If whites were able to blend in easier as migrants than blacks were, and if they often were better of financially, the general lack of interest that sociologists have had in looking at the white south as opposed to blacks has meant that their (or our?) migrations have been less commonly viewed with the rigor of contemporary statistical history. If the author is biased and leftist in his approach, this book is at least a good start towards a better understanding of a migration that interests me personally.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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