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The Making of a Racist: A Southerner Reflects on Family, History, and the Slave Trade

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  292 ratings  ·  45 reviews
In this powerful memoir, Charles Dew, one of America's most respected historians of the South--and 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 on
Hardcover, 200 pages
Published August 8th 2016 by University of Virginia Press
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Wendell Pierson
Jul 29, 2017 rated it liked it
5 stars for the first half. This is a very important book about a history professor who was born in the Jim Crow south and how he, like many other youth of the south, was "trained" to be a racist. It is a very unique perspective on the issue of race in America. However, in the second half of the book, it gets less personal and more textbook like with the author going into exhaustive detail regarding his research regarding documents and letters he encountered at different times in his career. Whi ...more
Dec 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a startling and sobering book that can roughly be divided into two parts.
The first is the author's recollections of growing up in Jim Crow Florida and the everyday racism that existed in that world. Not that he was aware of it even well into his late teens. Only when he attends college in the North does he slowly (as he points out his own racism was so ingrained that the process was excruciatingly slow)start to question all that he was brought up to believe.
The second part of the boo
Colleen Browne
Dec 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a thoughtful, important book. Written about his transformation from a Southern racist to an enlightened Southerner, Dew reaches into his soul to examine what happened during his college years to transform him. It began with his choice of a Northern college where, for the first time, he learned to relate to African-Americans as equals, something he had never even considered previously. He discusses the overt as well as covert ways that attitudes toward race among Southern whites have been ...more
Feb 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
The best review of this book would be in Charles Dew's own words ...... “because I wanted to know how white Southerners – my people – had managed to look evil in the face every day and not see what was right there in front of them, in front of us.”

A powerful memoir.
Feb 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
I read this book because the author grew up in St. Pete and lived in Old Northeast. Most of this book either made me feel sad or angry. I tried to understand it from the author's viewpoint but that didn't help me much. Especially the scene where he felt compelled to apologize to his horrifically racist father. It left me so thankful that I grew up in the south and managed for this NOT to be my reality. ...more
Karol Taylor
Oct 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I think about Charles Dew's transformation, I think about social constructs and social learning. Both play a big part in our personal development. If Charles Dew had never left the south to attend college in Massachusetts, we might not have had a clear review of the stock market that served as both a metaphor for the way human beings were thought of and treated as chattel, and of the Wall Street style of valuating these so-called chattel. In 1889 slave "stock" value was at it's highest, and ...more
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book by an honest historian who writes what he saw and lived. Should be widely read— especially by Southerners who still think the Civil War was heroic.
Suzanne Ondrus
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this in less than a day; it is absorbing, walking you through another era with analysis. Dew retraces his childhood, right in the home, examining what stories he was read, what jokes were told, and what songs were sung. He tells us many unrealized rules that governed his house, such as: His family designated chipped dishes, jelly glasses (to be used as drinking cups) to be used solely for the help(36).
His family had 2 bathrooms; the worn out & not pretty one was for the help. There were n
Philip Russell
Jan 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Dr. Dew's honest account is a must read for anyone interested in race relations in the (mid)south. Putting face on racism makes it all the more menacing. ...more
Feb 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Must read. Study the past to clear a better way for the future.
Mar 09, 2017 rated it did not like it
This book was written by a member of an old St Petersburg family. A story of racism that wouldn't be far different from any of our families growing up with white privilege. Hmmmm. ...more
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
interesting perspective - part of my mini-course on understanding what happened to our country to elect Donald Trump
Amalia Torres
Jun 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It is the best book that I read on racism and how a society dehumanizes to treat other race as if they were animals not capable of thinking or having feelings.
Carmi Cioni Podwojski
Sep 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: dnf
DNF (though I would have pushed to finish had I been able to attend book club). In the words of someone I know and admire, "Like dude, just write it in your diary." ...more
Candace Rollins
Jan 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A quick book to read on a very complicated issue. Professor Dew draws from his own experiences in the 'Jim Crow' south and historical documentation on the slave trade, an expert in both I'd say. The book adresses how white people don't see themselves as racist if their own actions are not overtly cruel or physically violent. Yet, when societies treat a group even in sublte ways ( by ways/rules that are recognizable to all involved) it sets up divisions that are far from equal. Examples of this a ...more
Jan 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Charles Dew grew up primarily in Florida (with a little bit of Virginia). He was born in 1937 and was raised as a true southern boy of that era. He listened and read racist stories with his parents, and was told why the south was on the right side of the Civil War. His grandfather wrote in support of slavery, his father was very pro-segregation, and his mother quietly reinforced all the hatred. Fast forward to Dew’s college years up north and him starting to question his beliefs on race. He ends ...more
Ron Abernethy
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I had the distinct pleasure of being asked to pick up Dr. Dew at the Birmingham, Alabama Amtrak train station (his preferred mode of travel) in 2018 to take him to a social justice event in Montgomery, Alabama in which he was the main speaker. I had read his book prior to meeting him that day and I was more than eager to see just who this he was and whether the 'face-to-face' person was, indeed, the one I came to know about in his book. Let me just say that the 90 minute ride to Montgomery was o ...more
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Professor examines his own history of growing up in the Jim Crow South to discover how a person becomes indoctrinated with racist attitudes. He questions how slavery and segregation can be staring one in the face and have little opposition. He delves into the history of slavery: it was the second most lucrative enterprise, after the plantations themselves, in the South during the 19th century, with millions of slaves being used as investments, debt payments, human chattel to augment the wealth o ...more
Reza Amiri Praramadhan
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-ebooks
Roughly divided into two parts, one is about the life of the author during the Jim Crow era in American south and his attempt to break free of it, the racism and all, and the second part discussed correspondences between slave traders and the slavers, which construed the very foundation of the evilness of slavery in American south, that is the commodification of humankind, separating children from their families, and so forth. I found the author's background stories of his life quite fascinating ...more
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an eye opening book into "how can you think like that?!" I now understand a lot better, about how some southerners are as racist as they are. This book is written by a man who goes North for an education and learns more than he ever thought he would. He recalls how the changes began, but yet understands that he still has a way to go...but he has the understanding to see how he became a racist and how he is changes. It is a very important book for the times. ...more
Pat Carson
Another book for the AP Challenge List (my own invention)- Dew takes us from his childhood through his slow awakening to the contradictions and injustice in Southern life. In 167 pages Dew can show a reader the what and why of the old segregated South and the challenge one individual faced when he 'woke up' to the other side of history. Well worth the read. ...more
Chelsea Chase
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The book is split into two equally fascinating parts- the author’s experience growing up in the Jim Crow south and his subsequent research into the slave trade as a professor. He packs quite a punch for a book under 200 pages. It’s an equally sad and terrifying look at our country’s racist history through two different lenses- an excellent read.
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Charles B. Dew's exploration into his Southern upbringing. He brings in primary sources - letters between slave traders', inventory and sales numbers to critically analyze Southern history, and he asks his students to do the same. Ultimately, racism is learned. As Dew's wise housekeeper stated, "Why do parents instill 'hate in children?'" ...more
Stephen Graham
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Part memoir, part reflection on the roots of the treatment of blacks in American society through the lens of slave sales. Dew gives a succinct and affecting account of his transformation from his childhood prejudices to what he became as a historian. More of us should reflect how we grew into the adults we are.
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding: both the author's own odyssey and his examination of the Richmond slave trade and the greed, racism, and heartlessness behind it as small children routinely separated from families and offered for sale as a matter or course ...more
Mindy Harman
Jan 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
An interesting read from the point of view of a southern man raised in a racist environment. The author became a historian and then used his education to really focus on the subject of racism and slavery in the South.
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, memoir
Dew reflects on his early life as a southerner during the 1950s. As a youngster he adopted the attitudes he saw around him. As a college student in the North, he confronted his racist attitudes. As a history professor and author, he became a scholar of the South.
Aaron Spiegel
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It would be easy to be furious at white southerners for the horrible acts and attitudes of the 19th century, but all Americans are guilty of perpetuating racial bigotry. Every white American should be required to read this book.
May 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyed hearing author speak last night, book is a wonderful commentary on the importance of teachers and "parents as teachers." But more importantly the importance of discussing racism in America, its historical roots and presence today. ...more
Nov 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Insight into the business of the slave trade from a historian's perspective as well as his upbringing in racist, segregated South. Written a bit stilted and tedious, the subject matter is disturbing. ...more
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Charles Dew is Ephraim Williams Professor of American History at Williams College. A native of St. Petersburg, Florida, he attended Woodberry Forest School in Viriginia and Williams College prior to completing his Ph.D. degree at the Johns Hopkins University under the direction of C. Vann Woodward.

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  Kerine Wint is a software engineering graduate with more love for books than for computers. As an avid reader, writer, and fan of all things...
37 likes · 12 comments
“But I was simultaneously able to be friends with Ted and still walk into my sophomore American history class and cite Abraham Lincoln as my authority for defending racial segregation in the South. I could read about the brutal lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi in the summer of 1955 and, a few short months later, write my comment about the whipping of John C. Calhoun’s slave in Hofstadter’s American Political Tradition. I wish I could explain this, but it mystifies me even now.” 0 likes
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