Book Reviews -- Common Whites: Class and Culture in Antebellum North Carolina by Bill Cecil-Fronsman

Article excerpt

Following in the footsteps of such historians as Eugene Genovest, John Blassingame, Herbert Gutman, Lawrence Levine and Sterling Stuckey, who were concerned with other main streams of Southern history, Cecil-Fronsman tries in this volume to explain the lives and cultures of the common whites in North Carolina--and by extension the whole South--before the Civil War. He works hard to define the common whites, and concludes that they were all those people--some with financial resources, many without--who did not own slaves, were not slaves or freed men and without much organization, political or financial. In other words, he is talking about some 70 percent of the people who actually lived in North Carolina, but who until now had been largely lumped together as red-necked, pot-bellied, racially biased and ignorant.

Such generalizations are, of course, made of the roughest cloth. Many of the unenfranchised were somewhat educated, gentle, wise amiable people who lacked only the boost of financial resources to raise them into a more powerful strain of society. …