Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

Childhood in the New South as Refl Ected in Children's Literature*: A Forum Featuring Lorinda B. Cohoon, Martha Hixon, Dianne Johnson-Feelings, Kenneth Kidd, Jennifer M. Miskec, Anita W. Moss, Claudia Nelson, M. Tyler Sasser, and Laureen Tedesco

Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

Childhood in the New South as Refl Ected in Children's Literature*: A Forum Featuring Lorinda B. Cohoon, Martha Hixon, Dianne Johnson-Feelings, Kenneth Kidd, Jennifer M. Miskec, Anita W. Moss, Claudia Nelson, M. Tyler Sasser, and Laureen Tedesco

Article excerpt

Shortly after I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1984, I began hearing the term New South. Charlotte, I was told, is a quintessential New South city. The city's progressive African American mayor at the time was often called a politician of the New South. When a local history museum opened its doors a few years later, it was named the Levine Museum of the New South.

I soon discovered, however, that there is no consensus as to exactly what is meant by this term other than that it contrasts with the Old South. Some people use the term New South when referring to the South after the Civil War. Some people say that the New South started with the rise of the Southern textile industry in the early twentieth century. Others point to the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s as the beginning of the New South. Some argue that the social and political changes associated with the civil rights movement actually started during the Second World War, and therefore the term New South should refer to the South since the mid-1940s.

Despite the fuzziness surrounding the term New South, the widespread use of the term reflects the fact that there is an on-going tension in the South between the "new" and the "old." This tension certainly involves changes in race relations, but it involves other changes, too. The New South has urban and suburban connotations, while the Old South has small town and rural associations. The New South embraces change, whereas the Old South values tradition. The New South has ties to technology and manufacturing, but the Old South has agrarian roots.

This tension between the new and the old reverberates through the lives of young people growing up in the New South, and numerous children's and young adult authors have written about this experience. In an attempt to identify some excellent children's and young adult books that capture the experience of growing up in the New South, I contacted nine prominent professors who teach children's literature courses at Southern universities or colleges and asked each one to send me a few paragraphs about a favorite children's or young adult book set in the New South. What follows are some of their recommendations.

Lorinda B. Cohoon, who teaches children's literature courses at the University of Memphis, recommended The Road to Memphis by Mildred D. Taylor. As Cohoon explains, this novel provides insights into African American life in the city of Memphis during the early 1940s:

The Road to Memphis, published in 1990, is one of several of Mildred Taylor's texts that focus on the Logan family and their stories. She published Song of the Trees in 1975, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry in 1976, Let the Circle Be Unbroken in 1981, The Gold Cadillac in 1987, Mississippi Bridge in 1990, The Well in 1995, and The Land in 2001. In The Road to Memphis, Cassie Logan is a high school student who is attending school in Jackson, Mississippi, with the goal of attending college. Although this story is set in 1941, and depicts how the characters respond to the chaos following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, there are several elements that make this text one that points toward cultural and economic changes that shape the New South. Cassie's generation of characters is portrayed as less willing to submit to the humiliations of racism and Jim Crow laws. At the beginning of the text, Cassie is attending high school and is making plans to attend college and possibly law school, career paths which would have been out of reach for women of her mother's generation. Her dreams of becoming a lawyer are depicted as possible, and Taylor examines how networks of members of the African American community work to intervene in scenes of injustice and to open up opportunities for education and success. Taylor's text also explores the migration path from Mississippi through Memphis to Chicago, and exposes how some migrations are direct results of racial injustice. These migrations are also depicted as central to shifting kinship networks and economic opportunities, and it continues to be true that African American families living in the Mid-South have been influenced by migrations from Mississippi through Memphis and to Chicago. …

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