By Jeff Burns
Here are three books on race in America that I highly recommend.
When I was a teenager in South Georgia, I remember the news coverage of the civil rights marches in Forsyth County Georgia and Oprah Winfrey, at the time a relatively new talk show host, dedicating an episode of her show to the “whites only” county north of Atlanta. Stories referred to the 1912 purge of the counties black residents. I couldn’t believe such a thing was possible. Blood at the Root by Patrick Phillips tells the full story of the “cleansing” of the county and the events leading up the 1987 marches.
I teach the story of Emmett Till every year. Not only is it a story or unimaginable tragedy and brutality, it is also considered a seminal moment in the civil rights movement. Till’s murder is considered by many to be the catalyst of the modern civil rights movement. It was fresh in the minds of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr, and the others involved in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Yet, too many Americans do not know the story. Timothy Tyson’s book is an essential read on the topic. Perhaps the most important part of the book is Tyson’s interview with Carolyn Bryant, the white woman who accused Till of disrespecting her – the incident that led to his murder.
The Potlikker Papers by John T. Edge is an original take on the 20th century civil rights movement. Edge tells the story of the movement through the lens of food, how southern food simultaneously unites and divides black and white southerners. It is one of my favorite reads of the last year, and I was privileged to hear Mr. Edge speak at the Savannah Book Festival in February and to talk with him for a moment afterwards. Here are some quotes about the book:
“To read “Potlikker” is to understand modern Southern history at a deeper level than you're used to. Not just a history of Southern food; it also stands as a singularly important history of the South itself.” —The Bitter Southerner
“Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi, uses food as a lens to explore Southern identity, seeking to reconcile a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow with who claims the Southern table today.” — NPR
“A panoramic mural of the South’s culinary heritage, illuminating the region’s troubled place at the American table and the unsung role of cooks in the quest for social justice.” —O, The Oprah Magazine