The Southern Racial Conversion Narrative: Larry L King and Pat Watters

By Hobson, Fred | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

The Southern Racial Conversion Narrative: Larry L King and Pat Watters


Hobson, Fred, The Virginia Quarterly Review


In that curious history of what I might call the white Southern racial conversion narrative-that literature of the mid and late 20th century in which white Southerners told of coming up from racism and embracing racial brotherhood and sisterhood-the decade of the 1960's would seem to occupy a particularly prominent place. Racial conversion narratives had been written before-most notably, in the late 1940's by Lillian Smith and Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin-but the 1960's transformed what had been random works of racial confession and conversion into a Southern literary subgenre. The times were right, and rather numerous Southerners, the better angels of their nature awakened by the Civil Rights Movement, their sensibilities shocked by the atrocities of Selma, Birmingham, and Philadelphia, Mississippi, looked inward to explore their own racial histories. Sarah Patton Boyle's The Desegregated Heart (1962), James McBride Dabbs' The Road Home (1960) and Who Speaks for the South? (1964), Lillian Smith's revised and expanded Killers of the Dream (1963), Willie Morris's North Toward Home (1967), and Wendell Berry's The Hidden Wound (1970) were all, among other things, racial conversion narratives. So, at least in part, were Robert Penn Warren's Who Speaks for the Negro (1965), in which the author repented for the defense of racial segregation he had written 35 years earlier for I'll Take My Stand, and William Styron's 1965 Harper's essay, "This Quiet Dust"-not to mention Styron's fictional The Confessions of Nat Turner ( 1967), which (despite its hostile reception from many black critics) was, in a deeper sense, the Confessions of William Styron, grandson of slaveholders and self-professed racial sinner.

All these works, and others, were written in the 1960's, but few were so compelling as hvo other books, not so well-known, also inspired by that decade and published in 1971. Larry L. King's Confessions of a White Racist had begun as an essay written for Willie Morris, editor of Harper's, at a time Morris was recruiting legions of Southerners, resident and expatriate, to tell about the South. Pat Watters Down to Now: Reflections on the Southern Civil Rights Movement, perhaps the most deeply felt of all the racial conversion narratives, was the product of a decade in which Watters had covered the Civil Rights Movement and reflected on Southern racial sins.

Larry King, whose Confessions had appeared a few month before Watters book, was just as fully a convert as Watters and others in the genre, but he came to racial conversion in a manner somewhat different from Watters, Smith, Dabbs, Boyle, and other racial converts of the period-not through religion (since, at least by his teens, he had little), nor through some extension of noblesse oblige (that, his family didn't have either), nor even through early residence in the traditional South. King was born in 1929 in Putnam, Texas-a land far more Western than Southern-and he grew up largely in west Texas, the son of a family of no great distinction, historical consciousness, or social or economic standing. In fact, the Kings, if not actually poor, were of very modest means. King's father farmed for a time, then held a series of jobs, including construction worker and night watchman for an oil company for about a dollar an hour. Nor did the young King himself have any driving ambition. He finished high school in Texas, joined the Army, went for a year of college at Texas Tech, and worked for a couple of Southwestern newspapers. Then, hitching his unpromising star to a Texas congressman, he went to Washington in 1954, and in the years that followed, just before and during the Johnson administration, he gained a certain cachet, as many country-smart and colorful Texans did during that era. If one were a poor boy from the provinces, it helped to be what was called a character-and King was adjudged to be precisely that. By the time Willie Morris met King in the mid-1960's he was already a "flamboyant and outspoken" figure with a "hardy and questing eye. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Southern Racial Conversion Narrative: Larry L King and Pat Watters
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.