Scalawag: A White Southerner's Journey through Segregation to Human Rights Activism

Scalawag: A White Southerner's Journey through Segregation to Human Rights Activism

Scalawag: A White Southerner's Journey through Segregation to Human Rights Activism

Scalawag: A White Southerner's Journey through Segregation to Human Rights Activism


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Scalawag tells the surprising story of a white working-class boy who became an unlikely civil rights activist. Born in 1935 in Richmond, where he was sent to segregated churches and schools, Ed Peeples was taught the ethos and lore of white supremacy by every adult in his young life. That message came with an equally cruel one—that, as the child of a wage-earning single mother, he was destined for failure.

But by age nineteen Peeples became what the whites in his world called a "traitor to the race." Pushed by a lone teacher to think critically, Peeples found his way to the black freedom struggle and began a long life of activism. He challenged racism in his U.S. Navy unit and engaged in sit-ins and community organizing. Later, as a university professor, he agitated for good jobs, health care, and decent housing for all, pushed for the creation of African American studies courses at his university, and worked toward equal treatment for women, prison reform, and more. Peeples did most of his human rights work in his native Virginia, and his story reveals how institutional racism pervaded the Upper South as much as the Deep South.

Covering fifty years' participation in the long civil rights movement, Peeples’s gripping story brings to life an unsung activist culture to which countless forgotten individuals contributed, over time expanding their commitment from civil rights to other causes. This engrossing, witty tale of escape from what once seemed certain fate invites readers to reflect on how moral courage can transform a life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780813935393
Publisher: University of Virginia Press
Publication date: 02/21/2014
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Edward H. Peeples is Associate Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine and Community Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. Nancy MacLean is the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University and the author of Freedom Is Not Enough: The Opening of the American Workplace. James H. Hershman Jr. is on the faculty of the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at Georgetown University.

Table of Contents

Preface xi

Introduction: Peeples's History as Social Movement History Nancy MacLean xiii

Part 1 Learning Whiteness

1 The Arrival of Another Birthright Segregationist 3

2 Learning God's Primary Colors 12

3 Boys Will Be Boys 19

4 Out of the Family Tempest 26

5 Receiving My Class Assignment in High School 32

Part 2 Encountering a New World

6 The Hillbilly Blues 39

7 Dr. Alice Recruits Another Justice Seeker 44

8 Boot Camp for Human Rights 51

9 Some Shipmates Are More Equal than Others 62

Part 3 Battling the Hydra

10 Reconnecting with the Struggle on the Home Front 71

11 Sit-ins Come to the Old Capitol of the Confederacy 77

12 "They Closed Our Schools" 86

13 The Bridge over the Mason-Dixon Line 94

14 A New Career and Maybe a New Virginia? 104

15 Communists, Sex Fiends, and Half-Breeds Take the Struggle to Appalachia 120

16 Confronting the Racism of the "Baron" of Kentucky Basketball 136

Part 4 Combating Old Injustices in New Finery

17 An Activist Professor in a New University in the Old Capital of the Confederacy 143

18 If the Hurricane Don't Blow You Away, the Government Will 152

19 Guilty of Pushing Racial Justice Too Fast 160

20 New Human Rights Struggles in the Era of Stealth Racism 167

Epilogue: Finally a Kinsman with Whom I Am Not a Stranger 183

Afterword: Peeples's History and Virginia History James H. Hershman Jr. 193

Acknowledgments 201

Further Reading on Virginia Civil Rights History 205

Index 209

What People are Saying About This

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall

White southerners have long had ‘a rage to explain,’ but only a few have told about the South from a white working-class point of view. Scalawag is a riveting coming-of-age tale: the first-person story of a poor boy’s moral education. Overcoming the injuries of class and the crippling lessons of white supremacy, Edward Peeples went on to become a foot soldier in a long struggle for human rights. We are in his debt, and in the debt of his historian collaborators, for a memoir that illuminates a whole landscape of local activism too often eclipsed by a popular narrative focused on a few iconic events and individuals.

Peter Wallenstein

A dazzling first-person account of a lifetime in the civil rights struggle, as a white southern boy grows up in Richmond, Virginia, grows out of his Jim Crow upbringing, and becomes a 'race traitor' scalawag.

David Roediger

Peeples gives us a remarkably intimate account of a youth misspent learning how to be white and therefore how to ignore the miseries caused on both sides of the color line by segregation, poverty, and violence. Just as important, he brings to life a maturity devoted to putting aside such childish things in order to fight against such miseries. This is an arresting personal and political account of the transformative power of freedom movements.



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