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Georgia Odyssey is a lively survey of the state’s history, from its beginnings as a European colony to its current standing as an international business mecca, from the self-imposed isolation of its Jim Crow era to its role as host of the centennial Olympic Games and beyond, from its long reign as the linchpin state of the Democratic Solid South to its current dominance by the Republican Party. This new edition incorporates current trends that have placed Georgia among the country’s most dynamic and attractive states, fueled the growth of its Hispanic and Asian American populations, and otherwise dramatically altered its demographic, economic, social, and cultural appearance and persona.

“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.

From the seventeenth century Cavaliers and Uncle Tom's Cabin to Civil Rights museums and today's conflicts over the Confederate flag, here is a brilliant portrait of southern identity, served in an engaging blend of history, literature, and popular culture. In this insightful book, written with dry wit and sharp insight, James C. Cobb explains how the South first came to be seen--and then came to see itself--as a region apart from the rest of America. As Cobb demonstrates, the legend of the aristocratic Cavalier origins of southern planter society was nurtured by both northern and southern writers, only to be challenged by abolitionist critics, black and white. After the Civil War, defeated and embittered southern whites incorporated the Cavalier myth into the cult of the "Lost Cause," which supplied the emotional energy for their determined crusade to rejoin the Union on their own terms. After World War I, white writers like Ellen Glasgow, William Faulkner and other key figures of "Southern Renaissance" as well as their African American counterparts in the "Harlem Renaissance"--Cobb is the first to show the strong links between the two movements--challenged the New South creed by asking how the grandiose vision of the South's past could be reconciled with the dismal reality of its present. The Southern self-image underwent another sea change in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, when the end of white supremacy shook the old definition of the "Southern way of life"--but at the same time, African Americans began to examine their southern roots more openly and embrace their regional, as well as racial, identity. As the millennium turned, the South confronted a new identity crisis brought on by global homogenization: if Southern culture is everywhere, has the New South become the No South? Here then is a major work by one of America's finest Southern historians, a magisterial synthesis that combines rich scholarship with provocative new insights into what the South means to southerners and to America as well.
The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling was a watershed event in the fight against racial segregation in the United States. The recent fiftieth anniversary of Brown prompted a surge of tributes: books, television and radio specials, conferences, and speeches. At the same time, says James C. Cobb, it revealed a growing trend of dismissiveness and negativity toward Brown and other accomplishments of the civil rights movement. Writing as both a lauded historian and a white southerner from the last generation to grow up under southern apartheid, Cobb responds to what he sees as distortions of Brown’s legacy and their implied disservice to those whom it inspired and empowered.

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.”

No one knew the Mississippi Delta more intimately or told its story more eloquently than did David L. Cohn (1894-1960). Between 1935 and 1960 he produced ten books including his best known, God Shakes Creation, later expanded into Where I Was Born and Raised -- and scores of articles and essays, including more than sixty such pieces in the Atlantic Monthly alone. One of his greatest frustrations, however, was not finding time to organize and prepare for publication the memoir he began in 1953.
James C. Cobb discovered Cohn's memoir in 1985 in the David L. Cohn Collection at the University of Mississippi. Struck by its richness and convinced that it should be published, he undertook the task of arranging and editing the material. What Cobb has brought forth is an immensely valuableand entertaining work of both literary and historical significance that plots one extraordinary man's course through the changes of the twentieth century.
Cohn was in essence a "cosmopolitan provincial," an observer who realized that the problems and circumstances of the Delta were at the same time unique and universal. A native of Greenville, he was educated at the University of Virginia and Yale University Law School. A brief but highly successful career in business allowed him to pursue his dream of being a writer. He traveled widely but remained faithful to his Delta roots, counting among his close friends both William Alexander Percy and Hodding Carter. He was intensely interested in politics and served as speechwriter for Democratic party leaders, including Adlai Stevenson, George McGovern, and Lyndon Johnson.
Lamenting the trend toward overspecialization, Cohn did not shrink from expressing his views on a wide array of topics: race and religion, free trade and internationalism, technology and culture, and materialism and matrimony, among others. Southern to the marrow and an almost zealously patriotic American, he was also a Jew, and he managed a harmonious integration of all three identities rather than the separation or suppression of any one.
In his Introduction, Cohn describes his memoir as "primarily an evocation of persons and places... the physical and spiritual terrain of my youth," a period that takes him from birth through approximately 1934. Cobb picks up the thread in a concluding essay, surveying Cohn's later life and analyzing his literary career in light of his southern origins, racial views, ethnic ties, and internationalist perspective. Perhaps better than any other single work by Cohn, The Mississippi Delta and the World reveals that he was a truly learned commentator on the human condition, one who benefited enormously both from his travels and from his determination to maintain his ties to the place where he was "born and raised."
From the seventeenth century Cavaliers and Uncle Tom's Cabin to Civil Rights museums and today's conflicts over the Confederate flag, here is a brilliant portrait of southern identity, served in an engaging blend of history, literature, and popular culture. In this insightful book, written with dry wit and sharp insight, James C. Cobb explains how the South first came to be seen--and then came to see itself--as a region apart from the rest of America. As Cobb demonstrates, the legend of the aristocratic Cavalier origins of southern planter society was nurtured by both northern and southern writers, only to be challenged by abolitionist critics, black and white. After the Civil War, defeated and embittered southern whites incorporated the Cavalier myth into the cult of the "Lost Cause," which supplied the emotional energy for their determined crusade to rejoin the Union on their own terms. After World War I, white writers like Ellen Glasgow, William Faulkner and other key figures of "Southern Renaissance" as well as their African American counterparts in the "Harlem Renaissance"--Cobb is the first to show the strong links between the two movements--challenged the New South creed by asking how the grandiose vision of the South's past could be reconciled with the dismal reality of its present. The Southern self-image underwent another sea change in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, when the end of white supremacy shook the old definition of the "Southern way of life"--but at the same time, African Americans began to examine their southern roots more openly and embrace their regional, as well as racial, identity. As the millennium turned, the South confronted a new identity crisis brought on by global homogenization: if Southern culture is everywhere, has the New South become the No South? Here then is a major work by one of America's finest Southern historians, a magisterial synthesis that combines rich scholarship with provocative new insights into what the South means to southerners and to America as well.
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