Neil Shirley & Saralee Stafford, Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South
Oakland, CA/Edinburgh: AK Press, 2015; 280pp; ISBN 9781849352079
The authors of this excellent book assert at the outset that it will not be a people's history or an academic study in rebellion, but rather a story-telling of individual moments of revolt, rupture and rebellion, which have provided for them examples of courage and inspiration. Having said that, a reader looking for social and cultural histories rather than political models will find them in abundance in this volume. Gathering together the stories of influential individuals who have been naively or wilfully ignored by the historical mainstream is itself an inspiring undertaking, and this book will provide a useful supplement to scholars of the south who are trying to understand the reasons for rebellion and its suppression over the longue duree.
The south and its history is suffused with myths and myth-making, and this volume tries to avoid the cliche of the simple southern past and instead focuses on themes of the emergence of whiteness, conflicts over violence and its legitimacy and collaboration with the state to avoid punishment. The theoretical underpinning of this is an understanding that enclosing and disciplining populations was a foundational process of capitalism, and well-known theorists are brought out to support this: Michel Foucault and Walter Benjamin among others. In practice, the authors want to challenge the concept of 'social peace' by examining the changing dynamics of anti-authoritarianism through time.
As an historian of slavery and race, I found it unsurprising that these currents ran strongly throughout this book, illustrating how time after time cross-ethnic solidarity was shut down by the legal system. The activities of the maroons in the Great Dismal swamp ('a commons beyond the boundaries of capitalist life' (p46)), whose stories are still neglected in many US history textbooks, were brought to the fore to illustrate this point, but also mentioned was the multiracial resistance during both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and since. In the aftermath of the Civil War, the Freedmen's Bureau's attempts to normalize property ownership and labour...