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Making Place, Making Race: Performances of Whiteness in the Jim Crow South

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This article examines the process of racialization as an essential aspect of how everyday geographies are made, understood, and challenged. It begins from the premise that a primary root of modern American race relations can be found in the southern past, especially in how that past was imagined, articulated, and performed during a crucial period: the post-Reconstruction era known as “Jim Crow.” More than just a reaction to a turbulent world where Civil War defeat destabilized categories of power and authority, white cultural memory there became an active ingredient in defining life in the New South. The culture of segregation that mobilized such memories, and the forgetting that inevitably accompanied them, relied on performance, ritualized choreographies of race and place, and gender and class, in which participants knew their roles and acted them out for each other and for visitors. Among the displays of white southern memory most active during Jim Crow, the Natchez Pilgrimage stands out. Elite white women served as the principal actors in making an imaginative geography that became a bedrock of cultural hegemony based on white supremacy. In order to reconstruct the performances of whiteness in Natchez, Mississippi, and to disentangle the constitutive relationship between race and place, this article makes use of qualitative methods that rely on previously unused archival materials and on ethnographic fieldnotes.

Keywords: Mississippi; Natchez; cultural memory; imaginative geographies; racialization; segregation; whiteness

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2003


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