We have all heard the saying, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” This truism is one of the most important reasons to study history; an ignorance of history can be a dangerous thing. Perhaps even more dangerous is having a simplistic view of history…
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We have all heard the saying, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” This truism is one of the most important reasons to study history; an ignorance of history can be a dangerous thing. Perhaps even more dangerous is having a simplistic view of history. Joseph Crespino, in his important book about the civil rights movement and the South’s response to it, In Search of Another County: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution, seeks to present a more complex view of history. Crespin, like all good history teachers, wants his readers have a fuller, more developed understanding so that they are not doomed to make incorrect interpretations and make similar mistakes of those who have gone before. According to Crespino, a simplistic view of the civil rights movement of the 1960s is that it could be put in, as reviewer Charles Payne put it, “triumphalist terms” (qutd. in Crespino 368). Payne feels that In Search of Another Country is the best retort to those who still see the civil rights movement that way. This simplistic view of civil rights sees the South, and especially the state of Mississippi, as an “icon of Southern intransigence, the key setting for what has become the modern American melodrama in which the nation finally dealt with anomalous Deep South racists and made good on its promise of equality for all its citizens” (Crespino 4). This view of history, Crespino maintains, reduces the story of the struggle for civil rights into a morality tale, ignores the ongoing struggle for racial justice, and oversimplifies the reactions of whites to civil rights both inside and outside of the South. Most importantly to Crespino is how this viewpoint of history obscures the connection of white and white conservative responses to civil rights and to their participation in the conservative counterrevolution of the Reagan era and the closing decades of the twentieth century. Of course, the reason for this simplistic viewpoint of the civil rights movement is that many of the most outrageous and virulent reactions to civil rights occurred in Mississippi. Crespino recounts several of these incidences, but recognizes that not all Mississippians were as racist as these individuals. Crespino examines Mississippi as a center of the modern conservative movement because it was atypical of the South. This period marked the creation of a powerful metaphor about Mississippi, by author James Silver in 1964—“the closed society.” By the end of the 1960s, however, racism in Mississippi became “a metaphor for all that was wrong in the nation” (Crespino 6). Perhaps the violent reaction against civil rights in Mississippi was preferable to “the quiet hypocrisy of the rest of America” (Crespino 5). Crespino’s major point in his book, while not discounting the horrible racism in Mississippi, is that racism in America was not limited to one state or even to one region of the country. Another simplistic interpretation of history is the belief of many that the modern conservative movement is connected to white supremacy in Mississippi. According to this view, modern conservatives co-opted the language of Southern white supremacy and “re-packaged” the message to appeal to the white Southern voter. Phrases like “states-rights” are codes that have sinister, racist underpinnings. Crespino presents the logic behind this viewpoint, and begins his book by making a connection between the 1964 grisly murders of three civil rights workers in Neshobo County, Mississippi and Ronald Reagan’s announcement that he was running for president just sixteen years later, at the Neshobo County Fair in 1980. This explains why many liberals insist that today, in the age of Obama, that disagreeing with our current president’s policies is tantamount to racism. At times, in Crespino’s book, it is difficult to figure out his position. In an opinion piece he wrote for Politico
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“An Analysis of Joseph Crespinos In Search of Another Country Book Report/Review”, n.d. https://studentshare.org/history/1415780-an-analysis-of-joseph-crespinos-in-search-of-another-country.
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