Race in the American South: From Slavery to Civil Rights

By David Brown; Clive Webb | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

The history of race is inextricably intertwined with the historical development of the American South. The rich cultural mix of this region reflected three integral elements: Native Americans, Europeans and Africans. Negotiating differences between these groups and deciding on their wider meaning and significance is a complicated process. This book has stressed the importance of race, class and gender but also ethnicity, religion and local circumstances. The balance of these forces has varied at different times and in different places. Race was hesitant and uncertain in the colonial period. Slavery became the bedrock foundation of southern society, inculcating the association of blackness with servility, but not necessarily the further assumption of African racial inferiority, at least not on a wide scale. The eventual expulsion of the Indians advanced and legitimated ideas of natural white supremacy, but the high point of southern racism came only after slavery's abolition. The full ideological and institutional weight of the South, eventually supported by the federal government, enforced the racial order and created apartheid in the southern states. Race was the single most important determinant of identity under Jim Crow, but the horrific oppression endured by African Americans under this regime fostered their collective resistance. Blacks and Indians were never passive victims and always contested and resisted white supremacy as best they could. The seeds of Jim Crow's demise were planted from within. The civil rights movement, built on the enduring courage and fortitude of the black community, exposed the ugliness of southern racism and brought about the dismantling of legal segregation.

From colonial origins, European settlers interacted with the diverse indigenous populations they encountered, relying on them for their very survival in many ways. Even before arriving in the New World, colonists had conceptions of exotic and sometimes frightening peoples passed on in tales and stories of adventurers who circumnavigated the globe in the early modern period. Similar impressionistic stories circulated within Native

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