The Southern Common People: Studies in Nineteenth-Century Social History

By Edward Magdol; Jon L. Wakelyn | Go to book overview

Edward Magdol


Against the Gentry: An Inquiry into a Southern Lower-Class Community and Culture, 1865-1870

Beginning with W. E. B. Du Bois in the Progressive period, revisionist writers of Reconstruction history have rendered tragic-era interpretations incredible. They have admirably redressed the balance of ethnicity but left us only at the threshold of the former slaves' world. The task remains to step over that threshold, to reconceptualize Reconstruction historiography from the point of view of the Southern lower classes. This essay suggests a need for such a new approach toward Reconstruction social history. The evidence of vital lower- class cultures as expressed in their values, views and activity indicates that until that need is met Reconstruction history is incomplete. 1

Lower-class groups in the Americas have demonstrated a lively talent for creating viable subcultures. "Outlaw," creole and mestizo free peoples have sustained communities and subcultures in defiance of local gentries and distant political rulers. Runaway slave villages enjoyed varying degrees of success from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Notable were the quilombos and palenques--the runaway slave communities in Cuba, Brazil, Jamaica and Florida. "Fugitive" mestizo communities existed in western South Carolina mountains during the eighteenth century. From time to time maroon communities appeared and disappeared on the swamps, bayous and mountains of the southeastern United States. All have enriched the history of Atlantic and Caribbean cultures. 2

One such subculture flourished in Robeson County, North Carolina, during post--Civil War years. A mixed community of seven thousand lower-class blacks and Anglo-Indians, it emerged from relative isolation to participate in

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Source: This essay was originally published in the Journal of Social History 6, no. 3 (Spring 1973): 259-83. Reprinted by permission.

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