That "The Land Would One Day Be Free": Reconciling Race and Region in African American and Southern Studies

By McInnis, Jarvis C. | The Mississippi Quarterly, Winter-Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

That "The Land Would One Day Be Free": Reconciling Race and Region in African American and Southern Studies


McInnis, Jarvis C., The Mississippi Quarterly


Everyone in my family knows not to question Grandmama when she makes a proclamation, so I ask a related question. Why did she stay in Mississippi in the 1950s if there are so many parts of our state she's still afraid of traveling to, while hundreds of our relatives left Mississippi for hopes of economic freedom in the Midwest. "The land, Kie" Grandmama says. "We worked too hard on this land to run. Some of us, we believed the land would one day be free. That's all I can tell you."                                --Kiese Laymon, "How They Do in Oxford" 

IN HER MOST RECENT STUDY, SOUTHSCAPES: GEOGRAPHIES OF RACE, Region, & Literature, Thadious Davis rightly critiques African Americans' exclusion from southern identity. Insisting that race does not eclipse region, she examines "writers of color [who] claim the very space that would negate their humanity and devalue their worth" (19). If, as Davis contends, African Americans have traditionally been marginalized within southern studies as well as constructions of southern identity, then the south has also been pushed to the fringes of African American studies or is mainly engaged in reductionist ways. As a site of the most brutal forms of racial violence and domination, the south often symbolizes deep pain and ambivalence for black people, creating a fissure between race and region in the field. And yet, in Turning South Again, Houston A. Baker, Jr., asserts quite provocatively that the south is the locus of black American identity and the genesis of black modernity. (3) Though Baker has been hailed as a chief architect of the new southern studies--a movement that, within the last fifteen years, has done important work to acknowledge and critically engage the south's rich ethnic diversity--few scholars in African American studies have answered his call to interrogate the paradox of blackness, modernity, and southern identity. To paraphrase Pat Ward Williams, then, I'm wondering, can you be black and claim the south, too? (4)

For many African American studies scholars who do engage the south, it is often figured as a scapegoat for America's long and dark history of racial capitalist violence, dispossession of property, labor exploitation, or a foil for the (circumscribed) freedoms afforded in the urban north. To be clear, the south is indeed all of these things. But, if the recent outrage against police brutality and the #BlackLivesMatter outcry reverberating across the nation have taught us anything, it is that racism is an American problem, not simply a southern one. After all, Jim Crow--both the pop culture figure responsible for the rise of minstrelsy and the segregation policy that was retooled into a racial caste system after Reconstruction--originated among white northerners. (5) As Malcolm X observed, "Mississippi is anywhere south of the Canadian border" (479). (6) And though his use of Mississippi as metonym for American racism seems to contribute to the problem of scapegoating the south, it actually suggests that the problem of the south--i.e. the inability to integrate and accept formerly enslaved people as liberated, rights-bearing, agential subjects--is indeed the problem of the nation as a whole. As such, he effectively redistributes the anti-black violence traditionally associated with "our South" as constitutive of the broader United States. (7)

And yet, the black south provides a rich "problem-space" (8) for interrogating some of the most pertinent trends and questions animating African American and southern studies alike. As Paul Gilroy's classic study, The Black Atlantic, demonstrates (perhaps unwittingly), the black south is integral to the field of black transnationalism and diaspora studies and anticipates the global turn in new southern studies. In my research, for instance, I elucidate how Caribbean intellectuals in the early twentieth century embraced and repurposed Booker T. Washington's vision of an industrial and agrarian future for African Americans as a strategy for socioeconomic autonomy and self-determination in places such as Jamaica, Cuba, and Haiti. …

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

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
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

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

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

That "The Land Would One Day Be Free": Reconciling Race and Region in African American and Southern Studies
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?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
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.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, 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." (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

    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.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.