Book Reviews -- the Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity by James C. Cobb

Article excerpt

Though well written and thorough, this is not a comfortable book to read. It breathes too fully with the truth of privilege, of elitism, of racial subjugation and potential general human depravity. Cobb's work burns with truth.

That portion of Mississippi that lies between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers between Memphis and Yazoo City has long been recognized as the most psychologically and culturally of the Old South. Cobb proves his point more thoroughly than his predecessors have. He takes up the story when the state was just being colonized, being reclaimed from the terrible topographical conditions which made the land hard to clear and heat and insect ridden. But the results were worth the lives they cost, especially when whites started bringing in slaves to do their work. On the backs of the slaves there developed the most intense conditions of the "peculiar society" that the South became.

Through careful and close readings of all kinds of written and oral evidence, Cobb charts the warped course of human existence in the Delta. It is an ugly picture of how one presumably "enlightened" race of people abused another. Though at this distance the two societies may seem totally separated the reality was considerably different. The whites accepted and assisted their black slaves--and even the black after they became free after the Civil War--as long as they knew their place. But gradually, as we know, conditions were modified by several powerful influence--the Freedom Marchers, integration of the University of Mississippi, economic pressures and presumably self-awareness.

Thus the story of the Delta is a tale with a gradual uplift at the end. The story is thorough. But not completely thorough. Though he uses much folklore throughout the text, there is undoubtedly much that might have been properly incorporated. …