In From Yeoman to Redneck in the South Carolina Upcountry, Stephen A. West revises understandings of the American South by offering a new perspective on two iconic figures in the region’s social landscape. "Yeoman," a term of praise for the small landowning farmer, was commonly used during the antebellum era but ultimately eclipsed by "redneck," an epithet that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century. In popular use, each served less as a precise class label than as a means to celebrate or denigrate the moral and civic worth of broad groups of white men. Viewing these richly evocative figures as ideological inventions rather than sociological realities, West examines the divisions they obscured and the conflicts that gave them such force.
The setting for this impressively detailed study is the Upper Piedmont of South Carolina, the sort of upcountry region typically associated with the white "plain folk." West shows how the yeoman ideal played a vital role in proslavery discourse before the Civil War but poorly captured the realities of life, with important implications for how historians understand the politics of slavery and the drive for secession. After the Civil War, the South Carolina upcountry was convulsed by the economic transformations and political conflicts out of which the redneck was born. West reinterprets key developments in the history of the New South--such as the politics of lynching and the phenomenon of the "Southern demagogue"--and uncovers the historical roots of a stereotype that continues to loom large in popular understandings of the American South.
Drawing together periods and topics often treated separately, West combines economic, social, and political history in an original and compelling account.
"West seeks to show how the idealized yeoman became the despised redneck, how social virtues were transformed into cultural vices. In this effort, he draws together important threads of economic, social, political, and cultural history. He does it all with considerable literary grace, in a very persuasive manner. Readers will come away from this book engaged and enlightened.
Stephen A. West is Associate Professor of History at Catholic University of America.