On the Lived Theology Reading List: Hattiesburg

Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White, by William SturkeyAn American City in Black and White

In Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White, William Sturkey tells the story of the Jim Crow South by bringing the readers into the homes of Hattiesburg families who lived through that era, those who struggled to uphold their southern “way of life” and those who fought to tear it down. He explores historical figures such as William Faulkner’s great-grandfather, a Confederate veteran who was the inspiration for the enigmatic character John Sartoris, and black leader Vernon Dahmer, whose killers were the first white men ever convicted of murdering a civil rights activist in Mississippi.

Sturkey introduces us to Jim Crow on Mobile Street in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the heart of the historic black downtown. He introduces us to both old-timers and newcomers who arrived in search of economic opportunities promised by the railroads, sawmills, and factories of the New South. Through it all, Sturkey traces the story of the Smith family across multiple generations, from Turner and Mamie Smith, who fled a life of sharecropping to find opportunity in town, to Hammond and Charles Smith, in whose family pharmacy Medgar Evers and his colleagues planned their strategy to give blacks the vote.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Illuminating… Sturkey’s clear-eyed and meticulous book pulls off a delicate balancing act. While depicting the terrors of Jim Crow, he also shows how Hattiesburg’s black residents, forced to forge their own communal institutions, laid the organizational groundwork for the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s.”The New York Times

Sturkey provides a moving account of the evil of white supremacy.”Choice

In this masterful biography of an American place, Sturkey compels us to look anew at the world made by white supremacy and remade by the black freedom struggle. Hattiesburg is a timely reminder of how much remains to be said about our shared, segregated past, and few have said more in a single book than this author. This bold, imaginative book is essential reading for anyone seeking to fathom Jim Crow’s rise, fall, and resilience—in Mississippi and well beyond.—Jason Morgan Ward, author of Hanging Bridge: Racial Violence and America’s Civil Rights Century

“Hattiesburg is where racial democracy meets white supremacy, where technology meets nature, where old slavery money meets the indebted sharecropper, where imagination meets the unimaginable, where the ballot meets the bullet. Sturkey’s magnificent portrait reminds us that Mississippi is no anachronism. It is the dark heart of American modernity.”—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original


For more information on the publication, click here.

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