Book Excerpt: The New Mind of the South

[imgbelt img=new-mind-of-the-south.jpg]For those looking to experience another side of the Old South, a Clarksdale, Mississippi, enterprise offers tourist lodging in historic sharecropper shacks. Though a hit with the literary set, not everyone is charmed by the idea.


EDITOR’S NOTE: For years community developers have been advising hard-hit communities to build on their assets, not their weaknesses. But what do you do when your cultural assets include painful reminders of oppression and economic distress? In this excerpt from her new book, The New Mind of the SouthTracy Thompson takes a look at how small cities like Clarksdale, Mississippi, have tried to build on the concept of poverty itself to bolster the local economy.


The Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, Mississippi, includes authentic sharecropper shacks that are rented to tourists on the Mississippi Blues Trail.

If there is any small silver lining in all of this [bad news], it’s that the economic pressures of the rural brain drain have forced many areas to scour their histories for something, anything, with which to lure some tourist dollars. Hence the idea of civil rights tourism, born of the need to generate income for places like Dallas County, Alabama, home of several key events of the Montgomery-to-Selma civil rights march of 1965, or Dougherty County, Georgia, where Martin Luther King was once put in jail. People who might otherwise have been content to live their whole lives without seeing Neshoba County, Mississippi, now have an inducement to visit: there, they can pick up a brochure directing them on a driving tour of notable civil rights sites, including the place where civil rights workers James Cheney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered in the infamous “long, hot summer” of 1964. The need for money is powerful enough to overcome the lingering reaction of many whites—and blacks, for that matter—that some chapters of local history are best laid to rest. “Tourism has been forced on these places,” Jim Carrier, a Montgomery, Alabama author of The Traveler’s Guide to the Civil Rights Movement told the New York Times in 2004—but in the end, the result has been a fuller, more complex and more honest picture of the South.