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Dixie    by Curtis Wilkie order for
by Curtis Wilkie
Order:  USA  Can
Scribner, 2001 (2001)
* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

Wilkie, who was a student at the University of Mississippi when James Meredith became the first African American to enroll there, offers us a rather subjective chronicle of the South during the latter half of the twentieth century. I mean 'subjective' in a good way: unlike many people, who write about events they weren't actually a part of, Wilkie really does know what he's talking about here.

After he graduated from 'Ole Miss,' Wilkie worked in Clarksdale, Mississippi. There he met a pharmacist by the name of Aaron Henry, who would go on to become the state president of the NAACP. As a journalist, Wilkie reported on the Freedom Summer of 1964, covered Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign and Bill Clinton's election (which coincided with, or perhaps caused, the South's shift from the Democratic Party to the Republicans).

Wilkie left the South in the later 1960s - the violence that accompanied the civil rights movement didn't sit well with him - and spent a quarter century as a globetrotting journalist. But, as usually happens to people who vow they'll never return, he came home again in the mid-90s. He clearly loves, and understands, the people of the South, and he presents them here not as stereotypes (the Bigot, the Racist, the Bully, the Hick) but as individuals. Similarly, in Wilkie's hands the incidents that shaped the South do not seem Great, or Momentous, but merely the inevitable results of chains of events set in motion years, even decades, before.

Yet we cannot forget that the modern history of the South shaped the future of the world, that what happened in Wilkie's neck of the woods influenced the way everyone else on the planet thought, and what they believed in. This is social history at its very best: smart, compassionate, smoothly written, without a trace of anger or irony. A must-read.

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