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Deep South: A Social Anthropological Study of Caste and Class

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A landmark study in Southern social stratification

First published in 1941, Deep South is the cooperative effort of a team of social anthropologists to document the economic, racial, and cultural character of the Jim Crow South through a study of a representative rural Mississippi community. Researchers Allison Davis, Burleigh B. Gardner, and Mary R. Gardner lived among the people of Natchez, Mississippi, as they investigated how class and caste informed daily life in a typical southern community. This Southern Classics edition of their study offers contemporary students of history a provocative collection of primary material gathered by conscientious and well-trained participant-observers, who found then—as now—intertwined social and economic inequalities at the root of racial tensions.

Expanding on earlier studies of community stratification by social class, researchers in the Deep South Project introduced the additional concept of caste, which parsed a community through rigid social ranks assigned at birth and unalterable through life—a concept readily identifiable in the racial divisions of the Jim Crow South. As African American researchers, Davis and his wife, Elizabeth, along with his assistant St. Clair Drake, were able to gain unrivaled access to the black community in rural Mississippi, unavailable to their white counterparts. Through their interviews and experiences, the authors vividly capture the nuances in caste-enforcing systems of tenant-landlord relations, local government, and law enforcement. But the chief achievement of Deep South is its rich analysis of how the southern economic system, and sharecropping in particular, functioned to maintain rigid caste divisions along racial lines.

In the new introduction to this edition, Jennifer Jensen Wallach situates this germinal study within the field of social anthropology and against the backdrop of similar community studies of the era. She also details the subsequent careers of this distinguished team of researchers.

600 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1941

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Allison Davis

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Displaying 1 - 3 of 3 reviews
Profile Image for Ben Keisler.
197 reviews13 followers
October 3, 2022
Not my field, but I found the picture of white and black societies in 1930's small city and rural Mississippi fascinating, and the story of what the researchers had to do to conduct and then publish their work is equally interesting.

I liked the contrast between the caste structures, keeping blacks and whites in separate groups, and the somewhat more fluid class structures interesting. The difference between white male/black female couples and black male/white female couples was not surprising. The former was tolerated, if disfavoured, while the latter was "run out of town", or worse. In either case, the children were consigned to the black caste, regardless of appearance.

Also fascinating were the descriptions of black and white upper, middle and lower classes and what privileges upper class blacks were and were not able to enjoy.

Well worth the read.
Displaying 1 - 3 of 3 reviews

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