Imani Perry’s mesmerizing blending of history, travelogue, creative storytelling, and memoir is an exquisitely beautiful expression of a deeply felt, yet conflicted love for a part of America that is in many ways her home. Lithe and nuanced, yet a laser sharp lesson in the complex and shifting landscapes of American racial and political identities.
INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“An elegant meditation on the complexities of the American South—and thus of America—by an esteemed daughter of the South and one of the great intellectuals of our time. An inspiration.” —Isabel Wilkerson
An essential, surprising journey through the history, rituals, and landscapes of the American South—and a revelatory argument for why you must understand the South in order to understand America
We all think we know the South. Even those who have never lived there can rattle off a list of signifiers: the Civil War, Gone with the Wind, the Ku Klux Klan, plantations, football, Jim Crow, slavery. But the idiosyncrasies, dispositions, and habits of the region are stranger and more complex than much of the country tends to acknowledge. In South to America, Imani Perry shows that the meaning of American is inextricably linked with the South, and that our understanding of its history and culture is the key to understanding the nation as a whole.
This is the story of a Black woman and native Alabaman returning to the region she has always called home and considering it with fresh eyes. Her journey is full of detours, deep dives, and surprising encounters with places and people. She renders Southerners from all walks of life with sensitivity and honesty, sharing her thoughts about a troubling history and the ritual humiliations and joys that characterize so much of Southern life.
Weaving together stories of immigrant communities, contemporary artists, exploitative opportunists, enslaved peoples, unsung heroes, her own ancestors, and her lived experiences, Imani Perry crafts a tapestry unlike any other. With uncommon insight and breathtaking clarity, South to America offers an assertion that if we want to build a more humane future for the United States, we must center our concern below the Mason-Dixon Line.
A Recommended Read from: The New York Times • TIME • Oprah Daily • USA Today • Vulture • Essence • Esquire • W Magazine • Atlanta Journal-Constitution • PopSugar • Book Riot • Chicago Review of Books • Electric Literature • Lit Hub
Imani Perry is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. Perry is the author of Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, winner of the 2019 Bograd-Weld Biography Prize from the Pen America Foundation. She is also the author of Breathe: A Letter to My Sons;Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation; andMay We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem. Perry, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, who grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Chicago, lives outside Philadelphia with her two sons.
Table of Contents
A Note from the Author xi
I Origin Stories
An Errand into Wilderness: Appalachia 3
Mother Country: Virginia 33
Animated Roulette: Louisville 53
Mary's Land: Annapolis and the Caves 63
Ironic Capital: Washington, DC 83
II The Solidified South
The Clearing: Upper Alabama 101
Tobacco Road in the Bible Belt: North Carolina 119
King of the South: Atlanta 141
More than a Memorial: Birmingham 153
Pearls Before Swine: Princeton to Nashville 179
When Beale Street Talks: Memphis 199
Soul of the South: The Black Belt 213
III Water People
Home of the Flying Africans: The Low Country 253
Pistoles and Flamboyán: Florida 279
Immobile Women: Mobile 307
Magnolia Graves and Easter Lilies: New Orleans 321