Alexandria Digital Research Library

Black and White Memory Making in Postwar Natchez, Mississippi, 1865-1935

Falck, Susan T.
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara.History
Degree Supervisor:
Jacobson Lisa
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
American history, African American studies, and Gender studies
Historical memory
Public history
Heritage tourism
Southern history
Cultural history
Mississippi history

"Black and White Memory Making in Postwar Natchez, Mississippi, 1865-1935" by Susan Thorsten Falck Nearly seventy years after the Civil War, Natchez, Mississippi, sold itself to Depression-era tourists as a place "Where the Old South Still Lives." Tourists from thirty-seven states flocked to view the town's decaying antebellum mansions, hoop-skirted hostesses, and a pageant saturated in sentimental Lost Cause imagery. Organized by the town's female garden club, the Pilgrimage created a popular culture experience that appealed to the tastes of 1930s tourists. All that was missing was Scarlett O'Hara herself. This dissertation analyzes how the selective white historical memories of a small Southern community originated from the experiences and hardships of the Civil War, changed over time, and culminated in a successful heritage tourism enterprise still in business today. This project also examines the ways in which Natchez African Americans worked to create a distinctive post-emancipation identity that challenged the dominant white historical memory. Although black public historical traditions in Natchez eroded far more quickly than in other Southern towns, this dissertation reveals how a vibrant postwar African American community helped to keep these memories alive. This dissertation builds on earlier scholarship in showing that historical memory is neither monolithic nor static, but an ongoing fluid process shaped and reshaped by memory makers, their audiences and an array of cultural, economic and political forces unique to a particular community. In the course of revealing how historical memory evolved in Natchez, this project contributes new insights on the periodization of Lost Cause ideology, the gendering of historical memory, and the role of fraternal and martial associations in crafting a postwar Southern masculine identity. The legacy of Natchez's collective historical memories--black and white--raises important questions about the impact of such selective historical memories on a nation and its people. Relying on a rich body of textual and visual sources, this study considers not only the meaning of being white and black in the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Jim Crow South, but also the ways in which members of one black community crafted their own collective narratives of the past.

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