“The constantly shifting cultural landscape of contemporary Georgia,” writes James C. Cobb, “presents a jumbled panorama of anachronism, contradiction, contrast, and peculiarity.” A Georgia native, Cobb delights in debunking familiar myths about his state as he brings its past to life and makes it relevant to today. Not all of that past is pleasant to recall, Cobb notes. Moreover, not all of today’s Georgians are as unequivocal as the tobacco farmer who informed a visiting journalist in 1938 that “we Georgians are Georgian as hell.” That said, a great many Georgians, both natives and new arrivals, care deeply about the state’s identity and consider it integral to their own. Georgia Odyssey is the ideal introduction to our past and a unique and often provocative look at the interaction of that past with our present and future.
Cobb begins by looking at how our historical understanding of segregation has evolved since the Brown decision. In particular, he targets the tenacious misconception that racial discrimination was at odds with economic modernization--and so would have faded out, on its own, under market pressures. He then looks at the argument that Brown energized white resistance more than it fomented civil rights progress. This position overstates the pace and extent of racial change in the South prior to Brown, Cobb says, while it understates Brown’s role in catalyzing and legitimizing subsequent black protest.
Finally, Cobb suggests that the Brown decree and the civil rights movement accomplished not only more than certain critics have acknowledged but also more than the hard statistics of black progress can reveal. The destruction of Jim Crow, with its “denial of belonging,” allowed African Americans to embrace their identity as southerners in ways that freed them to explore links between their southernness and their blackness. This is an important and timely reminder of “what the Brown court and the activists who took the spirit of its ruling into the streets were up against, both historically and contemporaneously.”