Emory Report
November 27, 2006
Volume 59, Number 12



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November 27 , 2006
New book by Emory historian examines segregation in the South

by benjamin van der horst

Assistant Professor of history Joseph Crespino’s work in the field of Southern history has caught the attention of a prestigious publisher. “In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution” will debut next year from Princeton University Press as part of the Politics and Society in Twentieth Century America Series.

The book focuses on Southern segregationists in Mississippi, a state “generally considered the most recalcitrant state in the South,” Crespino said. He argues that white Mississippians were key actors in a broad reaction against the modern liberalism that reshaped American politics in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

Instead of viewing white Mississippians as moral and political outcasts within the larger nation, Crespino’s book attempts to understand them as they viewed themselves. He writes about how the segregationists in the Deep South “moved from being seen as American pariahs to this carefully courted constituency” as evidenced by Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign for the presidency starting in Mississippi.

An excerpt from the book was published this year in the Journal of Policy History. “The Best Defense Is A Good Offense: The Stennis Amendment and the Fracturing of Liberal School Desegregation Policy,” tells the story of a Southern segregationist senator who “provides a larger backdrop to Southern segregationist opposition to the civil rights act,” Crespino explained. It focuses on school segregation, which Crespino called “the central civil rights issue in the Deep South.” School segregation was also a problem in the North, where instead of being enforced by law, it was enforced by society.

Crespino, a political historian, specializes in post-1945 America with “a particular interest in the South.” His other works-in-progress continue to explore these themes.

Crespino is working with Matt Lassiter at the University of Michigan as editor of a volume of essays, “The End of Southern History? Integrating the Modern South and the Nation.” Last year, they held a conference at Emory to explore this issue. Crespino argues that the South, as a distinctive element in American history and politics, did not disappear in the 1960s. Rather, it is central to the study of post-World War II America, he said.

Beginning in January, a fellowship from the National Academy of Education and the Spencer Foundation will fund Crespino’s travel to research his next book. Building upon his earlier research, this project will examine the dramatic rise of private schools in the South after the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision desegregated public schools. As a result, new church schools that Crespino calls “white-flight private academies” were popping up in both the North and the South.

Crespino plans to frame this research as a national rather than regional story, illustrating his belief in the importance of Southern history to the country as a whole.