Hurry over the New York Times site before the article goes into the “gotta-pay-to-see” bin, and read the story by Patricia Cohen about other stories beyond the classic race confrontations, from the South, during the Civil Rights Movement: “Interpreting Some Overlooked Stories from the South.”
A new generation of historians is exploring some of the untold stories of the civil rights movement and its legacies: the experiences not of heroes or murderous villains, but of ordinary Southern whites. And their research is challenging some long-held beliefs about the nation’s political realignment and the origins of modern conservatism.
“You want to pry below these great narratives of good and evil and black and white,” said Jason Sokol, 29, who wrote “There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975” (Alfred A. Knopf). “For those of us who didn’t live through it, there’s more of an effort to not simply celebrate the civil rights movement and how extraordinary it was, but to place it within the broader arc of the 20th century.”
Much history of the era remains to be written, especially local histories that students in high schools could get from local newspaper archives, from interviews, and other local sources.
This new wave of historians, many of them young, believe that one cannot understand today’s housing, schooling, economic development or political patterns without understanding the mostly apolitical white Southerners of that era. None of these scholars play down the inbred racism of the region, but they argue that the focus on race can obscure broader economic and demographic changes, like the dizzying corporate growth, the migration of white Northerners to the South and the shifting emphasis on class interests after legal segregation ended.