Hattiesburg book set for 2019 release


“Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White” won’t reach bookstore shelves until March 2019, but has already received some buzz.

The book, being published by Harvard University Press, is described as a rich, multigenerational saga of race and family in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, that tells the story of how Jim Crow was built, how it changed, and how the most powerful social movement in American history came together to tear it down.

Written by William Sturkey, an assistant professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the book is not his first dealing with the history of the American South. Sturkey teaches courses on African American history. His first book, To Write in the Light of Freedom, coedited with Jon Hale, brought together the newspapers, essays, and poems produced by young black students of the Freedom Schools during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964.

In a description of his latest book, Harvard University Press writes:

If you really want to understand Jim Crow – what it was and how African Americans rose up to defeat it – you should start by visiting Mobile Street in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the heart of the historic black downtown. There you can see remnants of the shops and churches where, amid the violence and humiliation of segregation, men and women gathered to build a remarkable community. 

Sturkey introduces readers to both old-timers and newcomers who arrived in search of economic opportunities promised by the railroads, sawmills, and factories of the New South. He also takes readers across town and inside the homes of white Hattiesburgers to show how their lives were shaped by the changing fortunes of the Jim Crow South.

Sturkey reveals the stories behind those who struggled to uphold their Southern “way of life” and those who fought to tear it down—from William Faulkner’s great-grandfather, a Confederate veteran who was the inspiration for the enigmatic character John Sartoris, to black leader Vernon Dahmer, whose killers were the first white men ever convicted of murdering a Civil Rights activist in Mississippi. Through it all, Hattiesburg traces the story of the Smith family across multiple generations, from Turner and Mamie Smith, who fled a life of sharecropping to find opportunity in town, to Hammond and Charles Smith, in whose family pharmacy Medgar Evers and his colleagues planned their strategy to give blacks the vote.

The 438-page hardcover book is slated for publication in the spring. It includes 16 photographs and one map.

Sturkey is a 2005 graduate of Ohio State University where he received his bachelor’s degree; followed by his Master’s in 2007 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He received his PhD from Ohio State in 2012. 

William Sturkey is an historian of Modern America who specializes in the history of race in the American South, with a particular interest in the histories of working-class racial minorities. He teaches courses on Modern American History, Southern History, the Civil Rights Movement, and the History of America in the 1960s. His first book, To Write in the Light of Freedom, is a co-edited collection of newspapers, essays, and poems produced by African American Freedom School students during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964. His second book is Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White.

Sturkey is currently working on a new project, tentatively titled To Be An American, which is a biography of the legendary Vietnam War hero Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez.