In 1949 Frank Owsley’s seminal work, Plain Folk in the Old South, argued that a thriving middle class represented the majority of southerners and was integral to the region’s development. In the spirit of Owsley’s effort to expand understanding of the south, the selections included here provide fresh perspectives on the complexities of the plain folk culture. The section “Home, Labor, and Leisure” reassigns responsibility for innovations in the arts and economy of the southern middle class. The section “Social Groups and Attitudes” contains Sally G. McMillen’s piece on the Sunday-school movement. Lacy K. Ford’s tract on the limits of egalitarianism is one of the topics considered in the third part, “Plain Folk Democracy and Its Limits.”
John B. Boles is William P. Hobby Professor of History at Rice University and managing editor of the Journal of Southern History. He is the author of The South through Time: A History of an American Region, Black Southerners, 1619-1869 and numerous other books. In 2004, he was honored with the Rice University Distinguished Alumni Award and he has received multiple teaching awards.
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