The Southernization of America

A Story of Democracy in the Balance

The Southernization of America

A Story of Democracy in the Balance

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Pulitzer Prize-winner Cynthia Tucker and award-winning author Frye Gaillard reflect in a powerful series of essays on the role of the South in America's long descent into Trumpism. In 1974 the great Southern author John Egerton published his seminal work, The Americanization of Dixie: The Southernization of America, reflecting on the double-edged reality of the South becoming more like the rest of the country and vice versa. Tucker and Gaillard dive even deeper into that reality from the time that Egerton published his book until the present. They see the dark side-the morphing of the Southern strategy of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan into the Republican Party of today with its thinly disguised (if indeed it is disguised all all) embrace of white supremacy and the subversion of democratic ideals. They explore the "birtherism" of Donald Trump and the roots of the racial backlash against President Obama; the specter of family separation on our southern border, with its echoes of similar separations in the era of slavery; as well as the rise of the Christian right, the demonstrations in Charlottesville, the death of George Floyd, and the attack on our nation's capital-all of which, they argue, have roots that trace their way to the South. But Tucker and Gaillard see another side too, a legacy rooted in the civil rights years that has given us political leaders like John Lewis, Jimmy Carter, Raphael Warnock, and Stacy Abrams. The authors raise the ironic possibility that the South, regarded by some as the heart of the country's systemic racism, might lead the way on the path to redemption. Tucker and Gaillard, colleagues and frequent collaborators at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, bring a multi-racial perspective and years of political reporting to bear on a critical moment in American history, a time of racial reckoning and of democracy under siege.
Cynthia Tucker and Frye Gaillard, two of the South's most perceptive journalists, explore the lingering influence of the old Confederacy on modern American politics. One reads this book with a shock of recognition and dismay, but also with the hope that the leaders of the future may emerge from the battlegrounds of the past.

—Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Plague Year and The Looming Tower

The hard questions facing us as Americans are at the heart of this book by two of the most provocative Southern writers of our time: What will we do about race and how do we begin to heal our raw political divide? Cynthia Tucker and Frye Gaillard trace the developments that have driven us to today and insist we have an honest look in the mirror, and a healthy debate, to save us from this current destructive path.

—Judy Woodruff, anchor and managing editor, PBS NewsHour

A powerful book on the centrality of the South to the American experience. Through the lenses of the role of evangelical religion, the struggle over school desegregation, the election of the first Black president, and the subsequent election of Donald Trump, Gaillard and Tucker compellingly demonstrate that the South is in no way an outlier to our larger U.S. society, but instead a true barometer of the promise and perils of the times in which we live.

—Claude A. Clegg III, author of The Black President: Hope and Fury in the Age of Obama

In these vital essays, Gaillard and Tucker provide a clear-eyed examination of the persistence of white supremacist poison in our politics, and the enduring courage and determination of civil rights advocates who combat it. The Southernization of America is indispensable reading on how the promise of American democracy remains under siege by violence and hate-and what will be required to ensure it has a fighting chance.

—Sarah Posner, author of Unholy: How White Christian Nationalists Powered the Trump Presidency, and the Devastating Legacy They Left Behind

The wisdom that flows through this slim volume packs a punch well beyond the book's weight. Journalists Cynthia Tucker and Frye Gaillard, with keen recall of telling anecdotes and pithy writing, have deconstructed how their beloved South, always desperate to find an exportable commodity, continues to discover ready markets for the xenophobia, white supremacy, and hypocrisy that defined it for decades. And yet, in the tradition of I'll Take My Stand, We Dissent, and Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, Tucker and Gaillard connect dots that give Americans of goodwill hope for the future.

—Hank Klibanoff, coauthor of The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation and creator of the Peabody Award-winning podcast Buried Truths

With a journalistic eye for detail, Frye Gaillard and Cynthia Tucker present a bracing account of America's reckoning with race and justice over the past half-century. The result is a sobering but clarifying narrative of where we've been, and a call to persevere in pursuit of our democratic ideals.

—Kristin Kobes Du Mez, New York Times bestselling author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation

In these incisive essays exploring the impact of Southern white supremacy on our national life, Frye Gaillard and Cynthia Tucker have shown that William Faulkner was right: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." As they eloquently remind us, we are now facing a crossroads in our national life in which we must choose between whiteness and an America that embraces racial justice and true democracy.

—Dan T. Carter, Educational Foundation Professor Emeritus, University of South Carolina

The Southernization of America is necessary reading for all who would understand the current crisis in which the nation finds itself - turned against its ideals and turned toward abiding bigotry. Knowing how we got here is a critical step toward finding a way out.

—Alice Randall, author of Black Bottom Saints

At the peak of the civil rights movement, the Democratic Party finally expelled its Southern, white supremacist wing-only to see its demagogues and their followers make a toxic migration to the Republican Party. In The Southernization of America, Tucker and Gaillard use the sharp pens of journalists to concisely capture the direct line from that political transformation to Donald Trump and the dangerous movement he embodies today. The book also reveals how the worst aspects of what was once the Southern way of life have metastasized across the country to contaminate the values of millions of Americans who should know better.

—Douglas A. Blackmon, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II

In this elegant and incisive book, Cynthia Tucker and Frye Gaillard sketch a picture of a modern America shaped by multiracial freedom struggles-as well as by the vicious, protean structures of white supremacy. We see through its lens that the undermining of civil rights movements and distortion of their memory is the story of the South but also of the nation. The Southernization of America issues a charge to its readers: choose democracy in defiance of our country's most narrow impulses and with a resolve equal to that of previous generations, or else.

—Adriane Lentz-Smith, author of Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I

A beautifully written yet searing meditation on American democracy. This brilliant and compelling book makes clear that the greatest threat to democracy is America's eternal pandemic-racism.

—Ty Seidule, author of Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause

With their Alabama roots, Frye Gaillard and Cynthia Tucker established themselves during distinguished newspaper careers as leading chroniclers of the civil rights movement. Their new book is required reading when that movement's gains are endangered by the resurgent assault on progressive values represented by Donald Trump and his entranced followers in the old Confederacy. The authors provide an alarming analysis of how "the explicit racism, the brazen xenophobia, and the cartoonish conspiracies" promoted through Fox News by a Republican Party in moral decline have once again gripped our beloved region. Their penetrating account reminds us anew that enlightened journalism is the South's best hope.

—Howell Raines, former executive editor of the New York Times and author of My Soul Is Rested

Frye Gaillard and Cynthia Tucker's book on the recent and current struggle for democracy in the South and the nation is a work of true distinction. Written by two prominent journalists from Alabama-one white and one black, one male and one female-it offers a wide-ranging and carefully crafted analysis of our current dilemma, a perilous situation rooted in regional pathology and national hubris. Full of moral urgency, their words of wisdom go beyond diagnosis to an insightful prescription for rescue and redemption.

—Raymond Arsenault, civil rights historian, author of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice and Arthur Ashe: A Life

Two Alabama journalists, one White and one Black, examine the expansion of Southern prejudices into our larger nation. A thoughtful, probing look at our national character.

—Kirkus Reviews

In this short but impactful text the coauthors theorize that the common thread in our shared history will always tie back to the American South and its history of racism. Rich in primary source references, the book is a must read for those wondering how we got where we are in today's age of politics and racial reckoning.


The Southernization of America is an eloquent and perceptive essay collection that tracks the intertwining of Southern and Republican values from the 1970s to the present. Concluding with a plea for "a sense of moral urgency" in pursuit of racial equality, this is a trenchant study of the South's firm grip on the American consciousness.

—Publisher's Weekly

"'Best New Read for 2022'" Selection


About the Author/Editor

Frye Gaillard (Author)
FRYE GAILLARD is the writer-in-residence in the English and history departments at the University of South Alabama. He is the author of twenty books, including With Music and Justice for All: Some Southerners and Their Passions; Cradle of Freedom: Alabama and the Movement That Changed America, winner of the Lillian Smith Book Award; The Dream Long Deferred: The Landmark Struggle for Desegregation in Charlotte, North Carolina, winner of the Gustavus Myers Award; and If I Were a Carpenter, the first independent, book-length study of Habitat for Humanity.

Cynthia Tucker (Author)
CYNTHIA TUCKER is a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist who has spent most of her career in journalism, having previously worked for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a Washington-based political correspondent. Her work as a journalist has been celebrated by the National Association of Black Journalists, who inducted her into its hall of fame, Harvard University, and the Alabama Humanities Foundation. Tucker spent three years as a visiting professor at the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and is currently the journalist-in-residence at the University of South Alabama. Her weekly column focuses on political and cultural issues, including income inequality, social justice, and public education reform.