Hearts and Minds: A Personal Chronicle of Race in America

Hearts and Minds: A Personal Chronicle of Race in America

Hearts and Minds: A Personal Chronicle of Race in America

Hearts and Minds: A Personal Chronicle of Race in America

Excerpt

In 1931, when I was in my second year of high school, the eminent scholar and critic, Lewis Mumford, wrote of me and my kind: "The Southerners themselves are exactly like the Old Regime in Russia as portrayed by Tolstoy and Chekhov: lazy, slow-moving, torpid, imperturbable, snobbish, interbred, tolerant of dirt, incapable of making effective plans of organization." I came across this characterization almost half a century after Professor Mumford set it down in the course of a visit to the University of Virginia, and by that time I was well aware that the most exalted American intellectuals had long held a similar view. Ralph Waldo Emerson found the Southerner "ignorant as a bear, as irascible and nettled as any porcupine, as polite as a troubador . . ." Henry Adams held that "strictly, the Southerner had no mind; he had temperament."

Reflecting on those who surrounded me during my teen- age years in Greenville, South Carolina, I find that the Mumfordian catalogue could hardly be said to apply as a whole to any one of them. They were undoubtedly interbred. But those who were snobbish were usually intolerant of dirt, imperturbability did not necessarily equate with laziness, and the passage of the years has demonstrated that a fair number were capable of sound planning and effective organization. After having spent the latter third of my life among non-Southerners, my guess is that the incidence and distribution of these qualities among my classmates would not have differed significantly from that to be found in a public high school in any city of comparable size in which the older American stock remained dominant.

This is not to argue that we were not, in important . . .

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