The Definition of Discrimination: Southern Tradition, Racial Segregation, and White Identity in Indianola, Mississippi, 1890-1960
Mary Moore Cathcart
Thesis DT 3.5 1997 C36
vii, 211 leaves; 29 cm.
I am studying the effects of the racial heritage of Indianola, Mississippi, on the roles and identities of its white inhabitants. My premise is that Indianola, a town incorporated 20 years after the end of the Civil War, was deeply affected by the legacy of what Lillian Smith called Southern tradition, from the physical layout of the town, to the strict segregation of its African American and white communities, all the way to the lives and work of the researchers who came to study race in the town. Southern tradition was so far reaching that it not only affected and proscribed the daily lives of both African Americans and whites in Indianola, but it was the driving force behind the very identities of Indianola's white individuals.
There are two major anthropological questions that I am addressing in this thesis: How does the culture of a community affect the roles and identities of the individuals in that community, and, on the flip side, how do the individuals of a community affect the culture of that community? I will address these questions using Indianola Mississippi, a small town in the Mississippi Delta typical of small rural Southern towns in the time between 1900 and 1960. Indianola was historically significant, however, for having been the sight of two of the first anthropological studies on non-Native people in the United States, for being the County seat of Sunflower County where Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer registered to vote, and for its most painful historical moment came in 1954 when Indianola planters and businessmen started the Citizen's Council, an organization which has often been called the "white collar Klan."
The two major sources that I am using to study Indianola in the pre-Civil Rights period are Hortense Powdermaker's After Freedom: A Cultural Study in the Deep South and John Dollard's Caste and Class in a Southern Town both of which were written during the 1930's. The questions raised by looking closely at these two community studies of Indianola are not limited to Indianola itself. The books are distinctly different, suggesting not only differences in methodology, attitude, and training between Powdermaker and Dollard, but also distinctions between their relationships with Indianola and its racial culture. How can we understand these distinctions and the meanings behind them? In what ways did Southern tradition affect these two researchers? Or, the larger question: in what ways does the culture of a community affect an anthropologist and his/her work?
Indianola is also personally significant to me because my mother grew up there, and I have been visiting the town since I was an infant. My family, therefore, comes under the scrutiny of this thesis as well. My grandparents moved to Indianola in the late 1940's and raised my mother there. The ways in which Southern tradition affected my grandmother and mother are of particular interest to me because they passed those lessons on to me after the Civil Rights movement. My own identity and relationship to Indianola has been profoundly affected by my mother's having been raised in Southern tradition. Although in this thesis I do not discuss Indianola in the present other than to point out, in the concluding chapter, a few ways that Southern tradition still persists, I will address the ways in which Southern tradition's long arm has reached thirty years into the future and a thousand miles to the North to affect my upbringing and my identity. This also leaves me open for the same kinds of questions that I asked of Powdermaker and Dollard. Can Southern tradition still affect my research on Indianola today? If so how and in what way?