South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation

Ecco. Jan. 2022. 416p. ISBN 9780062977403. $28.99. SOC SCI
Award-winning historian Perry (African American studies, Princeton Univ.; Looking for Lorraine) takes readers on a road trip through the South, arguing that its history is fundamental to understanding the United States as a whole. As a native Alabaman and a professor of African American studies, Perry blends stories about her own life, family, and friends with the histories, literature, and culture of 18 cities and regions in the South, mostly focusing on Black history but also touching on issues of immigration, the environment, and pop culture. She starts in the “Upper South,” exploring colonial history in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC, then covers the “Solidified South” of Alabama, North Carolina, Nashville, and Memphis, and finally the “Water People” of the coasts including Savannah, Florida, New Orleans, and the Bahamas. The chapters about cities where Perry has a strong connection (e.g., Birmingham, where she spent her early childhood) are moving, but others can be hard to follow, when the hodgepodge of facts and stories don’t seem to be leading to a specific point about that place.
VERDICT Recommended for readers of travelogues and African American and Southern history, as long as they like a meandering style.
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