While the landmarks of the civil rights movement have become indelible parts of our collective memory, few have written about what life was like for white southerners who lived through that historic time. Now, in his brilliant debut book, historian Jason Sokol explores the untold stories of ordinary people experiencing the tumultuous decades that forever altered the American landscape. So often historical accounts of the era have focused on the movement’s most dramatic moments and figures, and paid greatest attention to the brave steps taken by blacks to effect long-awaited change. In this riveting book, Sokol goes beyond the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, the 1960 student sit-ins, and the soul-stirring speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., and into the lives of middle- and working-class whites whose world was becoming unrecognizable to them. He takes us to New Orleans’s Ninth Ward, where, in 1960, a painful episode of school integration brought out the fiercest prejudices in some and made accidental radicals of others; to Ollie’s Barbecue in Birmingham and Pickrick Fried Chicken in Atlanta, and thousands of lunch counters in between, where “some white employees greeted black customers as though they had been patrons for years; others slammed doors in their faces; still more served them hesitantly and reluctantly.”
There Goes My Everything traces the origins of the civil rights struggle from World War II, when some black and white American soldiers lived and fought side by side overseas (leading them to question Jim Crow at home), to the beginnings of change in the 1950s and the flared tensions of the 1960s, into the 1970s, when strongholds of white rule suddenly found themselves overtaken by rising black political power. Through it all, Sokol resists the easy categorization of whites caught in the torrent of change; rather, he gives us nuanced portraits of people resisting, embracing, and questioning the social revolution taking place around them. Drawing on recorded interviews, magazine bureau dispatches, and newspaper editorials, Sokol seamlessly weaves together historical analysis with firsthand accounts. Here are the stories of white southerners in their own words, presented without condescension or moral judgment.
An unprecedented picture of one of the historic periods in twentieth-century America.
It's difficult not to approach Sokol's book with sheer astonishment that it has been written by one so young -- to paraphrase Doctor Johnson, to remark not that it is done well but that it is done at all -- but in truth, just about any scholar in the field would be happy to claim There Goes My Everything as his or her own work. Sokol does recapitulate too many twice-told events in civil rights history, but he has read a huge amount of material ignored by others -- the personal testimony of whites whose lives were changed by the movement -- and his account of what happened to them is sound and perceptive.