Matthew Lassiter, Joseph Crespino and Kevin Kruse: New wave of scholars sees a South no longer unique

Historians in the News

Historians Matthew Lassiter, Joseph Crespino and Kevin Kruse are part of the first generation of whites to grow up in the post-Jim Crow South. They're also at the leading edge of a group of younger scholars who say it's time to stop considering the South a region apart -- especially on race, the sine qua non of Southern exceptionalism.

In books, articles and at an Emory University conference this week under the banner "The End of Southern History?" these rising academic stars -- Lassiter at the University of Michigan, Crespino at Emory and Kruse at Princeton University -- challenge the prevailing view.

Believers in a distinct South "came of age during the civil rights movement, and that profoundly shaped their orientation," said Lassiter, 35. "Now there's a younger generation who grew up in the South and came of age in residentially segregated suburbs of cosmopolitan cities that seemed to have as much in common with Chicago or Los Angeles or Boston as with rural Mississippi."

Unlike earlier white Southerners who invoked an "everybody-does-it defense" to expose Northern hypocrisy, this new generation is examining how massive resistance to desegregation morphed into racially exclusive suburbanization across the United States.

The result, North and South, is what Lassiter calls an "intractable landscape of racial apartheid" where whites can avoid integration under cover of "color-blindness," their racial "innocence" intact.

The silent majority

The new scholars focus not on the provocative name players of the 1960s and '70s, but on the "silent majority" of Southern whites -- those who opposed both desegregation and violent resistance to it. They became the bulwark of a new conservative movement and an ascendant Republican Party that transformed American politics.

"It's not about can we take race out of the story of the South, but can we put the South back into the national story," Lassiter said. ...

Read entire article at New Orleans Times-Picayune

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