The Making of a Racist

The Making of A Racist. In this powerful memoir, Charles Dew, the Ephraim Williams Professor of American History at Williams College, and one of America’s most respected historians of the South — particularly its history of slavery — turns the focus on his own life, which began not in the halls of enlightenment but in a society unequivocally committed to segregation.

Dew re-creates the midcentury American South of his childhood–in many respects a boy’s paradise, but one stained by Lost Cause revisionism and, worse, by the full brunt of Jim Crow. Through entertainments and “educational” books that belittled African Americans, as well as the living examples of his own family, Dew was indoctrinated in a white supremacy that, at best, was condescendingly paternalistic and, at worst, brutally intolerant. The fear that southern culture, and the “hallowed white male brotherhood,” could come undone through the slightest flexibility in the color line gave the Jim Crow mindset its distinctly unyielding quality. Dew recalls his father, in most regards a decent man, becoming livid over a black tradesman daring to use the front, and not the back, door.

The second half of the book shows how this former Confederate youth and descendant of Thomas Roderick Dew, one of slavery’s most passionate apologists, went on to reject his racist upbringing and become a scholar of the South and its deeply conflicted history. The centerpiece of Dew’s story is his sobering discovery of a price circular from 1860–an itemized list of humans up for sale. Contemplating this document becomes Dew’s first step in an exploration of antebellum Richmond’s slave trade that investigates the terrible–but, to its white participants, unremarkable–inhumanity inherent in the institution.

Dew’s wish with this book is to show how the South of his childhood came into being, poisoning the minds even of honorable people, and to answer the question put to him by Illinois Browning Culver, the African American woman who devoted decades of her life to serving his family: “Charles, why do the grown-ups put so much hate in the children?”

Please come to hear Professor Dew discuss his book on Sunday, March 5th at 11:20 am.  These lively non-denominational speaker/discussion series examine issues in social justice, religious history, art, the relationships between religions, stewardship of the earth or other subjects of general community interest. These events are open to the entire community. There is no expectation that you need attend the worship service in order to come to these after Church events. These events are held in Community Hall towards the back of the building, near the parking lot. Events usually start at 11:20 am. There is coffee and snacks before hand, starting about 11:00 am.

Second Hour at the Meetinghouse is a lively non-denominational speaker/discussion series examining issues in social justice, religious history, art, the relationships between religions, or other subjects. These events are open to the entire community. The name “second hour” refers to the fact that these events occur after the Sunday morning worship service, but there is no expectation that you need attend the worship service in order to come to the second hour event. These events are held in Community Hall towards the back of the building, near the parking lot. Events usually start at 11:20 am. There is coffee before hand, starting about 11:00 am.

You do need not be affiliated with First Church to attend and participate in second hour events.

If you missed hearing this wonderful talk, you can see in online, thanks to Willinet!: