Discovering the South

One Man's Travels through a Changing America in the 1930s

By Jennifer Ritterhouse

384 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 27 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5921-3
    Published: February 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3094-6
    Published: March 2017
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-3095-3
    Published: February 2017
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5086-7
    Published: February 2017

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Awards & distinctions

Family History Book Award, North Carolina Society of Historians

During the Great Depression, the American South was not merely "the nation's number one economic problem," as President Franklin Roosevelt declared. It was also a battlefield on which forces for and against social change were starting to form. For a white southern liberal like Jonathan Daniels, editor of the Raleigh News and Observer, it was a fascinating moment to explore. Attuned to culture as well as politics, Daniels knew the true South lay somewhere between Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road and Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. On May 5, 1937, he set out to find it, driving thousands of miles in his trusty Plymouth and ultimately interviewing even Mitchell herself.

In Discovering the South historian Jennifer Ritterhouse pieces together Daniels’s unpublished notes from his tour along with his published writings and a wealth of archival evidence to put this one man's journey through a South in transition into a larger context. Daniels's well chosen itinerary brought him face to face with the full range of political and cultural possibilities in the South of the 1930s, from New Deal liberalism and social planning in the Tennessee Valley Authority, to Communist agitation in the Scottsboro case, to planters' and industrialists' reactionary worldview and repressive violence. The result is a lively narrative of black and white southerners fighting for and against democratic social change at the start of the nation's long civil rights era.

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About the Author

Jennifer Ritterhouse is professor of history at George Mason University and the author of Growing Up Jim Crow: How Black and White Southern Children Learned Race.
For more information about Jennifer Ritterhouse, visit the Author Page.


“Fascinating and well-researched. . . . Ritterhouse has done an admirable job in transporting us to a time and place and a southern liberal’s struggle to describe a region on the cusp of change.”--Rob Christensen, News and Observer

"Puts Daniels' tour in context of President Roosevelt's New Deal programs and the growing movement for greater civil rights for all."--Durham Herald-Sun

“How a Tar Heel Southerner discovered the South.”--Wilmington Star-News

"An uncommonly well-informed reexamination of the Dixie of the latter Depression."--Ed Yoder, The Weekly Standard

“Scholars and a general audience will gain insights from this panorama of the New Deal South, its problems, people, and potential, and the quandary of a white southern liberal on his way to becoming a racial liberal.”--The Journal of Southern History

“Provides a good on-the-ground view of how the New Deal affected the South in large and small ways.”--Journal of American History