A collection of essays representing forty-five years of reflection on the central problems of southern history bound together by a common concern with defining the crucial interaction of race and class in the formation of southern politics and life
“The tourist archipelagoes of my South / are prisons, too, corruptible” writes the poet Derek Walcott. While Walcott refers to the islands of the Caribbean, the analogous idea of a land made into solitary islands by an imprisoned and inherited corruption is historian J. Mills Thornton III’s American South. The captivating essays in Archipelagoes of My South: Episodes in the Shaping of a Region, 1830–1965 address this overarching and underlying narrative of Alabama politics and the history of the South.
Highlighting events as significant as the role of social and economic conflict in the southern secession movement, various aspects of Reconstruction, and the role of the Ku Klux Klan in the politics of the 1920s, Thornton draws from various points in the southern past in an effort to identify and understand the sources of the region’s power. Moreover, each essay investigates its subject matter and peels back layers with an aim to clarify why the enormous diversity of the southern experience makes that power so great, all the while allowing the reader to see connections that would not otherwise be apparent.
Archipelagoes of My South gathers previously uncollected essays into a single volume covering the entire length and breadth of Thornton’s career. The author’s principal concerns have always been the arc of regional evolution and the significance of the local. Thus, the mechanisms of political and social change and the interrelationships across eras and generations are recurring themes in many of these essays.
Even those who have spent their entire lives in the South may be unaware of the fractured layers of history that lie beneath the landscape they inhabit. For those southern residents who seek to comprehend more of their own past, this landmark compilation of essays on Alabama and southern history endeavors to provide illumination and enlightenment.